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While enjoying a cup of black coffee in a semi-classy diner in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I flipped through one of my trademark reporter's notebooks and ran across a ten-digit number. With a shrug, I muttered, "Now's as good a time as any."

"Um," said the voice coming from my cell, "hello?"

"Hi," I told it, "this is Max."


"You gave me your phone number last night?" I reminded the voice. "Need me to narrow it down?"

"I don't give out my phone number a lot, Max," said the woman on the other end with a happy sigh.

"I'm flattered."

"And I never give it out to guys at that bar."

"Why not?"

"Well," she explained, "it's kind of an old man pub, not a meat market."

"I'm not really a big fan of meat markets." Especially when the meat markets are too crowded that particular evening. "However, I've always been a huge fan of that pub, though." This would be a lot more convincing if I could remember that pub's name.

"Then how come I've never seen you there before?" she asked.

"You must have just missed me."

"You're hard to miss," she said.

It was time to get off the subject of geography before my bluff ran dry. "You're referring to my distinctive broken nose."

"It does stand out," she agreed sheepishly.

"It also makes it tough to commit petty crimes."

She chuckled. "So why are you calling, Max?"

"I was hoping you were free tonight."

After a moment, she replied, "As a matter of fact, I am."

"What do you think about me swinging by your place later?"

"You don't even know where I live!"

"I was hoping you'd tell me."

She paused again. "Monroe Street. Hoboken."

"That's good to know," I told her. "There are some pretty good takeout places in Hoboken. Got any preferences?"

"Surprise me."

"Sevenish?" I concluded. "I think that gives us plenty of time to get to know each other, and if we want to go out later, we can. If we don't, we don't."

"Eightish?" she replied. "I need to straighten out my apartment."


After I hit the End button, I turned to Gretchen West, the currently scowling photographer from my newspaper with who happened to be sharing my booth. "What?" I asked.

"Don't you ever stop?" she replied.

"Why would I?"

Gretchen shook her head. "What makes you think this woman you just met is just going to sleep with you?"

"Why wouldn't she?"

"Because she doesn't know better."

"She knows enough to find me attractive," I told her. "Isn't that enough?"

"You are so gross."

A small part of me winced, but that was mostly because I didn't usually endure such condemnation in the bright, green eyes of someone with that smile and décolletage. Her opinion of every other person she'd ever met sparkled invitingly, and so her negativity stung a little. But only a little. Otherwise, I welcomed her contempt, as it was matched by mine. Besides, her assessment reminded me of something important: "Are there any good takeout places in Hoboken?"

Aghast, she asked, "Why would I even consider helping you take advantage of some poor girl?"

"Why wouldn't you?"

"You are so gross!"

"You said that already," I reminded her.

"That's because I mean it."

On the inside, I smirked. For someone so vain and vacuous, she was getting pretty good at keeping up with my banter. On the outside, however, I completely ignored her. "For obvious reasons, I should probably avoid Italian. There's nothing sexy about slurping."

"You're making me uncomfortable," she told me.

"I should probably avoid Indian food too, because I don't know how her digestive tract might react." I frowned. "Have you ever seen those movies where the characters feed each other erotically? Maybe they could give me some ideas."

"Focus," she demanded.

"I suppose I could pick up some strawberries from a bodega on the way over, but that's not much of a meal, you know?"

She pouted, which was a lot cuter than it was intimidating.

I snapped my fingers. "Something with chopsticks! I can feed it to her sensually! Maybe sushi..."

"Max Fuentes!" Gretchen snapped.


Aubry Hitchens, reality TV's It Girl de jour, cleared her throat from the other side of the table. "Are we going to get on with this interview?"

"Right," I admitted. "Totally forgot."

She sneered. "I have a talk show and a magazine shoot later, you know."

"Sorry," I replied. "Important business."

"That was important?"

I grinned. "I'll ask the questions here."

Despite herself, she smiled a tiny smile. "Then get on with it."

"Are there any good takeout places in Hoboken?"

Gretchen groaned, and Aubry frowned. "Is that really your first question?"

"It is now."

"I've never been to Hoboken."

I jotted down Hobo and struck a line through it. To her, I said, "What kind of food do you think of as sexy?"

"Is this part seriously going in the print edition?" she asked.

"Why wouldn't it?"

to be continued...

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I could tell you every single detail about the history of this cable channel. I knew the date and time of its first broadcast, and of the content it inflicted upon the world. That date was a long time ago, which, in television years, was a very, very long, long time ago, and the content was educational in nature, twenty-four hours a day. About halfway between that date and now, the executives in charge noted that learning didn't turn much of a profit. And so they set their meager budget to the task of scouring the continent for a half-dozen egos and ids the size of ten ids, transplanted them to a mansion in Long Island, surrounded them with cameras, microphones, liquor, and hot tubs, and set them loose on each other. And, despite the fact that an incalculable number of formerly educational cable channels had walked this path long before this formerly educational cable channel, the result was still gold.

Along with this disappointing story, I also could tell you the names, ages, and hometowns of every single one of these egos and ids. If said ego and id was female, I could tell you her measurements, and whether or not they were fake. And finally, I could tell you the highlights of their hookups, breakups, and fisticuffs.

Yet my soul has remained intact for one reason alone: I have never watched a single minute of this program. Knowing these things was my job, and I was damned good at it.

The champion ego and id of this particular house was Aubrey Hitchens—32DD, with a twenty-six-inch waist and what has been described by many as a "smokin' booty." Currently, this particular booty was strolling down 116th and Amsterdam, across the street from where I stood, my photographer by my side.

"I can handle this," she said.

"What's your plan," I asked, rolling my eyes. "Go up to her, compliment her shoes, trade ab-crunching techniques, and ask if you can take a picture and let me follow up with a few questions?"

"Well, her shoes are really tacky, but I like her purse," she replied without the slightest trace of irony in her voice--or even her soul, really. It's one of the reasons she got under my skin. The other reasons strained the top buttons of her blouse.

"That's not going to work."

"Have you ever tried it?"

"I don't like her purse," I replied.

"Fine, Mr. Bossy Pants," she said. "What's your plan?"

Bossy Pants. That was new. At least she called me Mister. "Just follow my lead," I told her.

"Why would I want to do that?"

I smirked. "You've been my sidekick--"


"--for how long?"

"Four months," she replied.

"And what's my ratio of pulling to not pulling things like this off?"

"After you, Mr. Bossy Pants," she admitted.

I jogged down the street as fast as my charcoal-lined lungs would take me. "Miss Hitchens!" I wheezed. "Can I get you to answer a few questions?"

"You have to talk to my publicist," Aubrey Hitchens snapped without slowing down or looking in my direction.

"Did that," I replied. "She told me there was a fee."

"Then pay the fee."

"Can't afford it."

"Then you don't get an interview," she concluded.

"Can I quote you on that?"

She stopped walking. "Do what?"

"I mean," I told her, "my editor demands a story about you for the weekend edition. He gets what he demands."

"He scares me," Gretchen agreed. "Like when he ordered me to get a candid of you in case we need to fill a hole in tomorrow's paper." Without warning, she squeezed off two shots from her hip. They were probably going to be amazing shots I had to admit. For someone like her, she really was an excellent photographer.

I continued, "I had hoped to talk to you, but I'll just have to write a column speculating as to why a self-proclaimed farm girl from Omaha, Nebraska, would be so vain as to charge that much money for her attention." I removed a notebook from my pocket for effect, not because I had anything to write down. Also for effect, I frowned and turned to Gretchen. "Are there even farms in Omaha?"

"How am I supposed to know that?" she replied.

"Because you're from Nebraska."

Her eyes widened in confused shock. "No, I'm not."

"Yeah, you are."

"No," she reiterated, "I'm not."

"There's no point in denying it," I told her. "We already know the truth."

"I'm not from Nebraska!"

"You shouldn't be so embarrassed," I said. "Nebraska's a fine state."

"I'm from Baltimore!"

"You went to college in Baltimore," I clarified. "You went to high school in Nebraska."

"I went to high school in Connecticut."

"And before that you lived in Nebraska."

"No, I didn't!"

This didn't make any sense. Based on my rudimentary understanding of evolution, the kind of boisterousness, naivety, and delicious curves of someone like Gretchen West could only have developed from the hardworking, honest, God-fearing, German-Nordic genetic stock of the American Heartland. "At least tell me your parents are from Nebraska."

"What the hell is going on?" yelled Aubrey Hitchens.

"Isn't it obvious?" Gretchen replied. "We're blackmailing you."

"And if she can get that," I added, "then it should be obvious."

"You do this," Aubrey Hitchens warned, "you're burning every single bridge between me and your paper."

"We can't afford the tolls anyway," Gretchen told her.

Startled, I blinked and said, "That's... that's really fucking clever."

Her kissable cheeks blushed.

"Who did you steal that from?" I asked.

Those same cheeks flushed with anger.

I returned my attention to Aubrey Hitchens. "What do you say?" I asked. "Tomorrow afternoon?"

to be continued...

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Something I couldn't quite put my finger on told me that the editor of the newspaper I wanted to employ me wasn't yet convinced I was the person he was looking for.

So that editor put his finger on it. "I'm still not convinced you're the person I'm looking for."

"Tell me, Myron," I started.

"You just met me," he replied. "You're not allowed to call me by my first name."

"Can I call you chief?"


"Name one celebrity who won't talk to your paper," I told him, "and I can have an exclusive piece in your inbox by deadline tomorrow evening."

"Okay, Mister..." He peered skeptically at my resume. "... Max Fuentes. If you can blow my mind with a story about Gerald Davies, you're hired."

"You won't regret it, chief."

I know that I regretted it, because there was no way a twenty-four-year-old, wannabe journalist could get access to a mega-super-blockbuster-action star like Gerald Davies. Still, my favorite things to do were things I couldn't do, so I spent the night and the rest of the next day looking for inspiration in a bottle of cheap scotch and a plastic bag full of weed.

It wasn't there.

Oh well, there was always blackmail. I opened my laptop, consulted a few search engines, and picked up my cell.

"This is Cheryl," said the voice on the other end of the phone.

"Hi, Cheryl," I replied with an exaggerated twang, "this is Maxwell Fox from the Internal Revenue Service; I was hoping to ask you a favor." Yes, I was aware that impersonating a federal agent is a serious crime.

"You want a favor from me?" Cheryl asked with hesitation.

"Yep!" I whispered conspiratorially, "I wouldn't ask, but I am in such deep doo-doo." I laughed, "Sorry about that. I've got two little boys, and I think I've forgotten how to swear."

"Tell me about it. My girls have kids of their own, and I still say fudge when I'm really mad. How old are they?"

"Two and four." I plucked from my memory the names of my nephew and his best friend: "Luke and Cody."

Cheryl cooed.

"Can you tell me something?" I asked. "When do they stop putting everything in their mouths? There's always slobber on everything!"

She laughed. "Slobber's the least of your problems. Wait until they start driving."

"They grow up too fast."

"Yes, they do." She sighed. "What can I do for you today, Mr. Fox?"

"Please," I insisted, "call me Maxwell."

"Sure, Maxwell."

"As I said earlier, I'm in a bit of a pickle. It says here your firm handles the account of a Mr. Gerald Davies? The big movie star?"

"That's right."

"Well," I told her, "we're looking over some returns--routine government brick-a-brack; you know government."

"Tell me about it …"

"Well, I was supposed to draw up a little report, and I had all of my information on my little laptop, and it busted. You know computers."

"Tell me about it."

"Well, they told me over and over. They said, 'Maxwell, you better back that file up!' And I said I would, but I plum forgot! And if I go to my meeting this afternoon and I don't have that data, well, I don't have to tell you how much trouble I'd be in."

"What can I do to help?" she asked, genuine concern in her voice.

"The information I need is in Mr. Davies's expense accounts for the last fiscal year."

"Oh, I don't know."

"Cheryl," I pleaded, "they're going to boil my potatoes. I wouldn't ask if I wasn't in such a jam!"

She sighed, "Only if you don't tell anyone about this."

"Oh, God bless you!" I gave her a private e-mail account I'd set up for such an occasion, and she promised she'd send the information right away.

"Anytime, sweetheart!" Just before she hung up, she added, "You just be sure to give little Cody and little Luke a hug for me!"

"Sure thing!" I settled back in my desk, gulping down a mouthful of cold coffee to wash out the taste of Midwestern colloquialisms. A few minutes later, Cheryl came through, and I had in my hands every cent that passed through Gerald Davies's hands last year.

More importantly, I had in my hands my new job.

I made a couple of similarly dishonest phone calls and found the number of his publicist.

"Mark Ryan," the publicist answered.

"My name is Max Fuentes," I told him. "I'm an unemployed journalist, and I'm trying to exploit your client, Gerald Davies, to get a job. If you don't mind, I'd like to ask him a few questions."

I could almost hear him blink in surprise from the other end of the line. "What?"

"Hold on," I said, "I'm nervous. That came out totally wrong. What I meant to say, Mark, was, what can you tell me about the Loving Spoonful, located on 103rd Street and Amsterdam?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he replied after a long pause that indicating that he knew exactly what I was talking about.

"Not ringing any bells?" I insisted. "How about the one on Franklin? Or the one on Avenue C? How about Forty-ninth and Ninth?"

"What do you want?"

"What I want is to understand why a multi-millionaire would spend 35 percent of his net income to open up a chain of soup kitchens and then cover his tracks so thoroughly."

He sighed. "His pastor told him that charity doesn't count if he brags about it. It's that simple."

"How does this sound?" I asked. "Banner headline: 'Action star fights homelessness!' Subhead: 'Davies defeats …' Oh, hell, what's another word for poverty that starts with D?"

"I don't know," he replied.

"Never mind," I told him. "The copyeditors write the headlines anyway. They're really good at that alliteration bullshit."

"Your point, Mr. Fuentes?"

"Let me break this down for you, Mark," I said. "I am going to write an expose of your boss's extracurricular activities, and there's nothing you can do to stop me. In fact, you guys come across better if you give my staff a 'no comment.' Hell, I'll save you the trouble and take that down right now."

"Then why the song and dance?"

"Simple," I replied. "In exchange for all this free character-building publicity I'm about to rain down on Mr. Davies, all I ask is that you reconsider your relationship with me and the paper that's about to hire me."

After a moment of silence, he grunted, "Fine."

I grinned. "Pleasure working with you, Mark."

Forty-five minutes later, my phone went off. Before I could even speak into it, Myron Fogle's voice barked at me. "This e-mail you sent me; is this for real?"

"Have I ever lied to you?"

"I just met you."

"Give it time, then."

"I want to see you in my office tomorrow," he said. "Bring a passport or two forms of ID."

"Thanks, chief!"

Just before I hung up, he added, "And don't call me chief ever again," he said.

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I know what those three little words mean. At sixteen, I'm not supposed to, but I do. They've been so diluted by music and television and movies that it seems pop culture's most touching uses of them is how they get substituted with little codes like "I know" and "Ditto." They still do mean something. I'm not stupid, you know.

Sometimes they're used to manipulate; my friend Hakim does that. Sometimes guys say them to each other when they're too drunk to know better; my friend Dusty does that with his frat brothers. Sometimes they're used to stop an argument; my sister and her boyfriend do that. Sometimes they're used as an apology; my step-uncle and aunt do that.

This is not what happened. She just whispered those three little words into my ear. Okay, it wasn't just those three little words. She started with three other words: "Maximiliano Alejandro Fuentes"--two big words and a medium-sized one, I guess, followed by those three little ones.

It started last night. Before that, it started in the afternoon, when I said, "I'm not getting naked. Not for anybody."

"Not even for Heather?" asked Hakim.

I did have to think about it. "Not even for Heather."

"Oh, come on!" he whined. "You made it to second base with her!"

I cleared my throat. "Third."

"So you've been naked."

"Well," I said, "we kept the rest of our clothes on."

"You must be the only sixteen-year-old who's never done it."

"Heather hasn't."

"I have," he told me.

"That's because you're a slut."

"Lisa has."

I stuck my fingers in my ears. "La, la, la-la, la!" Lisa has been my best friend since the first day she scrambled my huevos, so I wasn't going to think about her like that. Ever.

"Dude," Hakim insisted, "I'm not going skinny-dipping without you."

"That's wrong on so many levels."

He clarified, "I'm totally chickening out if you're not."

"But Ange and his girlfriend, Whatshername, said they'd go."

"Not the same."

"And..." I gulped. "... Lisa..."

"I get to see Lisa naked anytime I want."

"La, la, la-la, la!" I repeated.

"Come on, dude!"

"My name's not dude." And then, with utmost finality, I told him, "And I am not taking Heather skinny-dipping!"

And so last night I took Heather skinny-dipping.

Getting to that point was only a small challenge. The weaknesses in the security of the municipal swimming pool were the windows above the locker-room doors. These windows were really narrow, mind you, but, fortunately, Hakim was much, much narrower. He was tall enough that it only took the slightest boost to get him within reach, but, unfortunately, Hakim was as awkward as he was tall.

The only person with the strength and stubbornness to lift him up was Lisa, who steadied his legs with uncharacteristic patience. Her hands, perpetually grease-stained from the tune-ups she performed on her piece-of-shit truck and my piece-of-shit car, cupped his ass for balance, and her raised arms lifted the hem of her hoodie and turtleneck, exposing the bare skin of her hip as it thrust his weight upward.

"La, la, la-la, la!" I whispered.

"What the hell are you doing?" Heather whispered back.

"Did I just do that out loud?"

She giggled. "God, you are so weird." She gripped my cheeks in her palms and drew me in for a clumsy kiss, complete with anxious squirming. "Sexy and smart and totally weird." That's all it took to snap me out of whatever the hell that was.

A glance at Lisa stretching out her taxed limbs snapped me back into it.

In moments, Hakim cracked open the locker-room door, and we scrambled inside. Ange wasted no time stripping and getting into the water, which was just as well, since I had no desire to see him naked. His girlfriend, Whatshername, took her time, which was not just as well, since I had no desire to see her naked either. Teenage curiosity made me look anyway, though, and I was not happy about that.

Heather did a slow striptease for me. This would have been much more exciting had it not been for three things: the first was that, having rounded 75 percent of the bases, I was already very familiar with her long, creamy white torso--perfect for stroking with my tongue, and her barely swollen breasts--perfect for holding in my hands while my fingertips squeezed her nipples. The part of her I hadn't seen was covered by black denim, which she had yet to dispose of.

If she had gotten that far, I just might have missed the second thing, which was in my line of sight behind her. Hakim had removed his shirt to reveal the jutting ribs and shoulder bones I'd always suspected were hidden there. He'd peeled off his fishnet sleeves and half of his pants before he remembered he was also wearing tightly laced, calf-length leather and canvas boots.

The third was something I would not have missed, no matter how many girls might be rolling her hips for my benefit. And no amount of la-la-las could hide the way Lisa whipped off her hoodie and turtleneck and unhooked her bra in one smooth movement. I couldn't stop it--a teenage heterosexual boy was blessed and cursed with a photographic memory when it came to exposed female flesh, even if it was just an arched, muscled back.

And then, almost as if she could feel me fighting the urge to stare, she turned her head, smirked, and uttered to me three little words that seemed at the time to be just as--if not more important than--the earth-shattering three little words I would hear later. "Don't look now," Lisa said.

Just like that, a door slammed shut in my mind, reinforcing the wall of the status quo, echoing with the loudest la-la-la of them all.

That settled, I focused again on Heather, noting that most of her jeans were gone, and her thumbs were hooked around the elastic of her underwear. After they dropped down to her ankles, she kicked them over to the rest of her clothes and told me, "Your turn."

Home plate now in sight, I obeyed, with considerably less grace than she had shown.

"Wow," she said.

"Yeah," I repeated.

The other four were comfortable enough with each other's bodies to splash around the pool, squealing with the goofy innocence of five-year-olds. Heather and I, however, stared into each other's eyes in stunned silence. We drifted away, my arms holding her waist, her arms draped over my shoulders. After a romantic eternity, she leaned in close and said those three words--well, those six words. But it was those three at the end that were the most important. And though even though we're both only sixteen, we know they'll last forever.

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I knelt down, folded my hands, and told the person on the other side of the screen, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been four days since my last confession.

"Since then, I've smoked three cigarettes--which is up from last week, and it's only Wednesday. I also thought a whole bunch of impure thoughts. I don't know why that's a sin, you know? I'm fourteen. That's what fourteen-year-olds do. Oh, well, God's house, God's rules; you don't make them.

"Where was I? Oh, yeah. What commandment tells you not to draw schlongs in someone else’s textbooks?" I asked. "Either way, we also drew gross pictures of Sister Mary Sebastian in the margins and put it someplace where she could find it. I mean, it's not like I'm coveting Sister Mary Sebastian or anything, but I'm pretty sure framing Jimmy Emerson for that is bearing false witness against my neighbor."

I added, "Speaking of coveting, Heather Baruchel is still going with Alfred Nuñez, and I really want her to be going with me. It's not like they're married or anything, but I still think it would be adultery if I stole her away, so I'll go ahead and skip that one, I think. That's not my kind of sin. Besides, Alfred's kind of a..." I wracked my brain for a confessional-safe word. "... jerk-face. It's only a matter of time before she's single again.

"And of course, I skipped school yesterday..."

I straightened my back. "Actually, I'm not going to apologize for that. There's nothing to apologize for. I thought no impure thoughts, I didn't covet my neighbor's wife, and I didn't kill anybody. My friend had a crisis, and word got back to me--always does--and I went to her. That's what I do. Am I supposed to do anything less?

"She's lost. She's like a sheep in a briar patch or something like that, and I'm going to lead her out." I wanted to stand to emphasize my point, but that's not how things were done in a place like this. "Isn't that what Christians are supposed to do?

"Anyway, let me get back on script: Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest--"

I thought of something else. "And it's not like she makes it easy to lead her away from the thorns. One minute, she's like a puppy, you know? Following me around and attacking anyone who's being mean to me? And the next she's sulking and impossible. But I still look after her because she's a good person. She really is."

With a frown, I asked, "Could I get sainthood for that? How do you get sainthood anyway? Is there an application process? Because, believe me, if the pope ever met my friend, he'd fast-track me.

"Oh, and I can't forget to mention the reason I'm here in the first place: Darla O'Donnell hired Angelo Schaaf and me to steal the answers to her Anatomy final, and the Mother Superior heard us in the teacher’s office, and we took off, and I'm hiding in here until she stops checking out the chapel. Amen."

Just before I made the sign of the cross, I added, "Oh, and I played with myself at least ten times since my last confession."

"Jesus, Max!" hissed the screen.

"Priests don't say Jesus," I replied. "Taking the Lord's name in vain and all."

"I'm not a priest!"

"You're on the padre's side of the confessional, Ange;" I told him, "you're the padre."

"Fine," he said, "but I don't want to hear about you playing with yourself!"

"There are no secrets from the Lord."

He mumbled a bit until he stopped and opened the door a crack. He whispered, "I think she's gone, Max."

"Anyway, Lord," I said to the sky, "Got to go. Thanks for listening. I'll say Hail Marys and shit later." I made the sign of the cross, jumped to my feet, and ran for it.

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"Whoa!" I shouted to the hairy, naked ass and to the girl whose legs were wrapped around it. "Jesus! What the hell? There is a lock! Right there! To keep this kind of thing from happening! Jesus!"

After recoiling and slamming the door, I stole a quick glance of the bar where she sat, tucking her hair back into a clip with one hand and sipping from a beer with the other.

Forty hours ago, my world was gone. The woman I loved had dumped me with the help of the US Postal service, I had a few days left to vacate my apartment without anywhere to vacate to, and, because these things happen in threes, somebody put a gun to my head and took away my money. Alone and unsure, I'd resigned myself to spending the rest of my life without smiling again.

And now, there she was, catching my gaze and flashing me a raised eyebrow, a smirk, and a shrug so slight that only I would see it. She showed me how to get back to my feet and keep doing what I did best--much the same as I did to her from the moment we first met. She was beautiful, wild, sexy, and totally not my type. She was the most important friend I've ever had. She was my angel.

And it was that look in her eye that inspired me to open the door again and say to the couple, who had by now resumed fornicating, "How do you guys even dothat? Yoga? There's not even enough room in here for a sink!" I wish I was kidding, but it could actually be found around the corner. That reminded me: "And don't forget to wash up. Seriously."

"Get!" the woman yelled in the voice of a bear. "The fuck! Out!"

"Lock. Right here," I replied and slammed the door.

Forty hours ago, I never would have imagined me laughing, but here I was.

Lisa Green shot me an expression and gesture that said, "What the hell is going on over there?"

With my own expression and gesture, I replied, "I'll fill you in later," before stepping over to enter the second restroom.

"Occupied," snarled the unshaven redneck sitting on the toilet.

"I can see that!" I snarled back. "There is a motherfucking lock!"

I returned to the stool beside Lisa, sipped my beer, and told her, "Occupied."

"There's two restrooms, you know," offered Dan the bartender.

"Also occupied," I said. "By three people."

Lisa squinted at me. "Each?"

"Total," I replied.

Dan the bartender asked, "How can anybody even do that? Yoga?"

"And some lube, I'm sure." To Lisa I explained, "They're kind of small."

"Figured that's why the sink's on the outside."

"Do me a favor?" I asked. "Keep an eye out over my shoulder and let me know when someone finished up?"

"That might be sooner than you think," she told me.

"I don't know what that means."

"Was one of the guys a hick with a chin-beard and a trucker hat?"

"He's right behind me," I sighed, "isn't he?"

She nodded.


She nodded again.

Facing the man, I told him, "I said I was sorry."

"No you didn't."

"Well, I'm saying it now: I'm sorry I interrupted you defecating. Please forgive me." And with that, I returned my attention to Lisa.

"He's still here," she said.

"Still pissed?"

She nodded.

The man asked, "Anybody ever teach you to el knocko?"

I turned back around. "I see what you did there: You transformed an English phrase into a mockery of Spanish by adding an O and the article el to the..."

The next thing that happened was unclear, but I noticed that all of my air had been forcibly, the world burst into a bright shade of pink, and I groped the bar for anything to hold onto. As I sank to my knees, I managed to gasp, "Green, I'm going down."

The environment rushed back in, filling my lungs, and populating the space around me with an audience asking if I was okay. In my opinion, this was a dumb question. I panted for a bit and scanned the room for cute faces. "Any of you ladies a nurse?"

Just about every one of those cute faces frowned.

"Any of you ladies want to learn?"

That's when the crowd parted, and from my vantage point, I watched a pair of scuffed work boots stagger backward. The dungaree-clad knees attached to them buckled, and shortly thereafter, the rest of the redneck crashed to the floor.

Lisa's hand appeared in front of me, and I took it so she could drag me to my feet. "You had that coming."

"It's true," I replied.

It was then that we realized that everyone, including Dan the bartender, was aghast.

"What?" I asked them.

to be continued...

i_17bingo: (Default)


A lot of people blow off work-related steam by getting drunk or high. My job is getting drunk or high, so I always had to look other places. I didn't really like movies because I had met too many people involved in making those movies. I didn't really like retail therapy because I didn't have any money. I couldn't go dancing because it's too social an activity. Same went for sex.

If there was one thing that always wound me down, it was the uniquely freeform structure of cooking. Not only did the sizzles, aromas, and flavors put me into a meditative trance, but I had something to eat when I was done.

If there was a downside, though, it was that I ended up with a lot of food I didn't know what to do with. Luckily, I had roommates, and one drifted in, buoyed by the scent of my hobby.

"Hey, roomie," Cameron said.

"Hey, roomie," I replied.

"Hangin' out in the kitchen?"

Since I was indeed hanging out in the kitchen, I could safely say, "Yes."

"You cooking?"


"Cool." He bobbed his head and studied every detail of the cramped space except for the large percentage of it occupied by me.

I waited a long time for him to say something, but nothing happened. It was pretty obvious what he wanted, though, so I decided to go ahead and skip the small-talk. "Want some?"

"I couldn't."

"I insist."

"Mitchell and I just ate," he replied. Not really hungry."

Maybe it wasn't that obvious what he wanted. "Oh."

"Roomie, I think we need to talk."

"Nothing good ever begins with that phrase, Cameron."

He took a breath and stared into space, looking for the words he'd need to continue. "You know that Mitchell and I have no problem with you smoking pot on the fire escape, right? We even join you sometimes."

"But...?" I asked, because the situation demanded it.

"But you need to be cool about it," he continued. "Somebody's been complaining to the super."


"The super?" he replied. "That's the guy that--"

"Who's complaining?"

"We don't know."

"I know who it is," I concluded. "It's our neighbor."

"No," he said slowly, "Emma and I talked a long time ago about it, and she's totally okay with us smoking weed."

"She's okay with you smoking weed," I clarified.

"So you're telling me that she dislikes you so much that she'd make all of our lives miserable just to mess with you?"


"That's crazy!"

"No," I told him, "she's crazy."

"You barely even know each other!"

Well, that wasn't entirely true. "Leaving aside the identity of the snitch," I said, eager to change the subject, "does the super know who's doing the smoking?"

"No, but he's getting pretty pissed."

"Well if he doesn't know..."

"Come on, roomie," he whined, "you know he's going to figure it out."

"He never struck me as a perceptive man."

"You've never met the guy."

"In that case," I said, "he'll never suspect it's me."

"I don't want to get evicted."

"What should I do, then?"

"Be," he replied, "cool."

He left me in the kitchen, considerably less cool I was when he'd entered. With a grunt, I spooned some of my lamb rogan josh into a plastic takeout container I'd held onto because I was my father's son, and he was apparently raised in the Great Depression of the 1930s. And the, after thinking long and hard about the implications of the conversation I just had with Cameron, I decided to smoke some pot on the fire escape.

I crawled outside, balanced the container on the railing, and spent the next hour watching the buildings of the city fade from the cool blues and grays of daytime to the reds and ambers of night. The sound and fury of my life dissolved away and blew away in a gentle summer breeze, and I hadn't even had to eat or spark up yet.

Wait. In other words, after all this time out here, the food was getting cold and my pipe was still in my pants. Fantastic. Now the memory loss was becoming a permanent fixture.

I shrugged and reached into my pocket, an action that knocked the container from its perch. In a move that would have impressed even the swiftest of hummingbirds, I lashed out my hand and caught it.

I placed it back on the railing, waited a moment for my heart rate to settle down, and put pipe carefully to my lips. No sooner did I light the match than I heard a voice behind me say, "Hey, dude."

I yelped, spun around, knocked the container over again, caught it, returned it, and hid the pipe behind me.

Emma shook her head and grinned that sexy, crooked grin I still remember from when I first met her. "You know, dude," she told me, "I'm not going to turn you in."

"Why would you think I was thinking that?"

"Because the walls are thin, and you were shouting."

I should have been mortified, but I really wasn't. "I was shouting?"

She shook her head and laughed. "Nice move there, by the way, Johnny Ringo."

"It's the boots," I informed her. "They're what give me ..." Once again, I knocked over the container, and once again, I caught it.

"There's got to be a better place for that."

I put it back and rolled my eyes. "Nonsense. This is the perfect... ah, fuck." Apparently I'd not braced it properly this time, because it tumbled off the edge, and I couldn't to anything to stop it this time.

It ricocheted off the railing below us, and, defying all laws of physics, bounced off the one below that before rebounding off the shoulder of a pedestrian, splattering lamb and yogurt and onions and ginger and cinnamon and lots of other colorful spices all over the sidewalk and said pedestrian.

Hypnotized by shame, I stared at the carnage until that he craned his neck to glare in my direction.

"Um," I said to him. "Sorry?"

He continued to stare, his rage simmering to a boil.

"Do you think maybe you can toss that back--urk!"

The urk happened because Emma had grabbed my collar and yanked me from the edge. Eyes wide and teeth gritted, she hissed, "Do you have any idea who that was?"

"An innocent bystander?"

"The super."

"Oh," I moaned, "fuck."

"You are such an idiot."

I switched to disaster mode. "Here's what we're going to do," I said. "We're going to split up. That way, he can't get both of us."

"Good night, dude."

to be continued...

i_17bingo: (Default)


The ringtone I'd assigned to Sean McCoy was "Shower in the Dark" by Binary Mystery. The band was chosen because binary must have been his native tongue in the android factory in which I assumed he was assembled; the word mystery referred to the fact that I had no idea what the fuck he was about. The symbolism of the song itself was that it was free for download, and I didn't want to put too much work into a goddamned ringtone.

"Why didn't you shut that shit off, Max," asked my editor, Myron Fogle.

"Because nobody ever calls me."

"I call you."

"Nobody who doesn't ask me to do things that aren't my job calls me."

He frowned as he rifled through negatives in that sentence until he uncovered my point. "Your job is to do whatever I tell you to do."

"If you told me to eat the Chrysler Building?" I asked. "Would that be my job?"


"Checkmate," I admitted.

He sighed, "I don't like this either, Max, but word came from on high."

"Mr. Lloyd?"

Myron flinched, because he was Jewish, and his people were not in the habit of speaking the names of those at the top. And while Mr. Lloyd wasn't God, he was pretty close. "Not quite that high."

"So nobody gets struck by lightning if I pass?"

My editor took a deep breath and removed the reading glasses I was certain he only owned because he needed something to remove to show he was serious. "I really hate to tell you this, because you're a cocky son of a bitch, and the last thing you need is validation."

"It's true."

"You're the only one who can get in there." He explained, "When it comes to journalism, nobody's security is tighter than Hollywood's, yet you get through every time we ask you to."

"I don't do it because you ask," I replied. "I do it because they because they don't want me to do it."

"These guys really don't want you to."

"I'm listening."

"Total media blackout for three square blocks surrounding the entire Brook- Gareth Hotel complex. "Nobody gets in without an invitation, and those involve security checks."

"Catering? Cleaning staff?" I asked. "Being Hispanic does give me an unfair advantage."

He shook his head. "In-house."

I ground my teeth.

"You have thirty-six hours. No interviews--just the names of the people there, the gist of the keynote speech and the identity of the one giving it, and some color. All you'll need to do is get in, get out, and call Bill immediately so he can type it up." He sat down at his desk, returned his glasses to their former position, glanced at his computer, glanced back, and said, "You're still here?"

I called Sean back immediately.

He asked, "I'm curious as to your--"

"Busy," I replied. "I've got to get into this super-secret-media-non-grata-political-fundraising-bullshit and so some stealth reporting and I don't even know how I can get into the building without an invite..."

"I can acquire an invitation."

"Excuse me?"

"You are alluding to the governor's ball at the Brooke-Gareth Hotel tomorrow evening, are you not?"

"You're invited?" I stammered.

"Not presently," he replied. "Typically, I choose to avoid such events inasmuch as they tend toward the stuffy and pretentious." Yes, I was aware of the irony, but I don't think he was. "However, it will be a simple matter of a telephone call to amend my schedule."

And so, the next evening, a tuxedo-clad Sean McCoy strolled up to where I leaned on the outside wall of the Brooke-Gareth hotel and asked, "This is the attire you have chosen for such a prohibitively high-security, high-class gathering?"

"I tucked my shirt in!" I said.

"You may wish to remain by my side for the duration of the evening, lest your goal be ascertained by those who do not want their greased palms exposed."

I watched limo after limo pull up to the front door to be met by enormous, humorless security guards. "You're probably right," I told him.

Naturally I wandered off at the first sign of an hourglass figure in a backless evening gown.

"Hi," I said to the woman who possessed both the figure and the gown, "I'm Max."

"Sara," she replied before she even saw me. When she did, she looked me up and down and smirked. "You're wearing cowboy boots?"

"Yes, I am."

"At a formal, fundraiser?"


"You may be the ballsiest man in this building."

"I wouldn't go that far," I replied. "Senator Bruno Sanchez is standing over there, and he's running in the primary as a fiscal conservative."

She laughed. "Ouch."

"He's not the ballsiest man in the building," I continued. "That would be Councilman Marvin Hechtmann over there, who insists he's the go-to guy for family values. Now, if you want to expand the field to both genders, then the ballsiest person in the room is Senator Vicky Southern, who voted against the last federal jobs bill and has actively been campaigning to repeal it. And when the money from it started rolling in, she signed the checks and went to all the photo ops, and--this is my favorite part--claims that the money came from a different spending package."

With a grin, she shook her head.

I concluded, "On the other hand, I am wearing cowboy boots to a formal fundraiser."

"You know the press isn't invited here tonight."

"What makes you think I'm the press?"

She flashed me a dirty but amused look.

I gave her a card. "You win."

She took a look at it. "I was wrong," she said. "You're not a real journalist if you work at this paper."

"I like you."

"The feeling's mutual."

"Want to get out of here?"

"I can't," she replied. "It's my party."

"You're the governor?"

She laughed. "I'm the social director. I'm the one who brought all this together."

"Oh." I asked her, "You want to find an empty room nearby and fool around?"

"You really are the ballsiest person in the building."

"You didn't answer my question."

"There's an old smoking lounge on the other side of the bar," she replied. "No one knows it's there."

I don't know how long we'd been in there, but I do know that I had my hand up her skirt when Sean turned on the lights.

"Max," he announced, "you need to be aware that..."

Sara jumped off of my lap and began smoothing out her dress while I tucked my shirt back into my pants.

He groaned in frustration. "Is there any point in your life, Max, when you are not..."

Sara said, "Hello, Sean."

His back stiffened. "Sara."

"Are you his plus-one?" she asked me.

I shrugged.

She snorted and walked to his side. "You, of all people, should remember that the media is not, nor has it ever been, invited to gatherings such as this."

"He is merely my companion," he replied. "What he chooses to do with that status is his business."

"Your companion? I was wondering how long it would take for you to realize that about yourself."

"Aspersions about my sexuality? Mature."

After she stormed away, I asked, "What the hell was that about?"

He rolled his eyes. "She's my ex-wife."

"Say no more."

"I had no such intentions." He pointed a thumb at the door. "Regardless, I have come to bring to your attention that the keynote speaker has nearly ascended to the podium. It might interest you to know that she is Andrea Gareth, heiress to this both the Gareth and the Brooke family holdings."

"I need a minute before I can go out there."


I nodded. Nothing Sean said surprised me anymore. Nothing.

Ninety minutes later, I whipped out my cell phone the moment I stepped out of the media-blackout zone. "Bill, I hope you're ready to type. We might be able to catch the first edition--"

"No rush," Bill replied. "We've been scooped."

I handed Sean the phone. "Take this," I said. "I need to find a quiet place to throw up."

"Evidently you have given Max news of an unpleasant nature," Sean said to Bill. "Please clarify while he vomits."

After several hours' worth of hors d'oeuvres fled my stomach, he handed me back my cell. "A journalist for your rival paper, The New York Caller by the name of Allen Dean had secured, by means which remain unclear, interviews both with the governor and Andrea Gareth, as well as an advanced copy of the speech she eventually delivered."

"Allen who?"

Sean replied, "Unbeknownst to either of us, you appear to have acquired yourself an arch-nemesis."

to be continued...

Road Trip

Jun. 29th, 2011 07:55 am
i_17bingo: (Default)


At first, everything stopped, and I mean everything--even gravity it seemed, just for a moment. It had to have been only a short moment, though, for had it been any longer than that, my ceasing heart would have killed me. It didn't feel like a short moment. I gasped, and with it came the jolt that ran down my thighs and calves to rebound off my toes and shoot up my spine, tightening every muscle it passed through.

This wasn't my first orgasm, not by a long shot; what made it special was that it was the latest in a long line with her.

She hadn't quite finished this time, but there was nothing I could do about that. I gulped in some air, rolled onto my back, and bathed in my own humidity.

"Wow!" she panted.

"Yeah," I replied. When I regained control over my body, I sat up and disposed of the condom.

As I did this, she reached for the wad of sheets in the corner near her head, shook them out, and covered herself up to her collarbone. Her modesty always made me smile, especially since I'd just seen and tasted her naked. Hell, I was responsible for making her that way in the first place.

She sighed. "I love how worked up you get when I get out of class."

"I don't have any control over that." I really didn't. She went to a catholic school and wore the uniform; though not for long whenever I had a say in it.

I know: it's weird that I was fucking a schoolgirl when I was in my mid-twenties. Sure she was nineteen, but it was still pretty weird.

"I wish I didn't have to go," I whispered.

"Please, Fox, let's not do this. You're not leaving for a few weeks."

"I know, but New York's so far away."

"I'll be there with you before you even know it."

Her sleek black hair had become understandably entangled, and so I ran my fingers through it. "Where's the first place you want to go when you get there?"

"Besides your bed?" She giggled at me when I rolled my eyes. "I always assumed you were too cool for touristy crap."

"I am cool," I replied, "but I do love the touristy crap. I just never have an excuse to go unless I have a visitor."

She screwed up her face in mock concentration. "Statue of Liberty?"

"Fuck that," I said. "You get a better view of it from the Staten Island Ferry. How about the Empire State Building?"

"Could I see my house from there?"

"Cariño," I told her, "you can see the entire world from there."

"I only need to see you."

I laughed. "That's the cheesiest thing you have ever said."

She shoved me onto the bed. "I'll show you cheesy."

"Are you going to sing show tunes?"

"Stop it ..."

"Deliver an emotional monologue about the triumph of the human spirit?"


"Give me a pizza with extra mozzarella and ricotta?"

"You are so dead!"

"So you can read blank-verse poetry at my eulogy?"

She couldn't bring herself to stop grinning. "I don't even know why I even talk to you."

"Because I'm witty."

She kissed me tenderly. "And because I love you."

Tossing aside the sheet, she crawled backward and then began running her tongue up my thigh.

"Is this what you mean by cheesy?"

She giggled.

I moaned. "Because I can do cheesy."

That was months ago.

Decades before that, I looked at my bedroom, tucked into the back of a trailer that perched along the unpaved, gravel road that skirted the edge of the ragged hills that orbited my hometown in a remote corner of New Mexico, and I decided that it was time to go. I was seven.

Ten years ago, I graduated high school and ran toward the world in front of me while fleeing the bridges burning behind me.

Six months ago, for reasons I'm still not sure I fully understand, I went back.

Four years ago, I began my career as a journalist, spending my days and nights with no overtime, conning celebrities into liking me and telling me how their next movie, album, or TV season was going to be so much better than the last and how they didn't care about what others thought and how they were really just shy.

Six months and one day ago, I looked into the mirror and saw, like I did everyday, a vision of myself ten years in the future, dressed in the same clothes, working the same job, and tearing myself to pieces.

Six months ago, I met her.

Yesterday, I could look in the mirror and see an adult.

Three months from now, I would going to walk away from all of this. I was going to leave New York, and with it, the drugs, the alcohol, the sex, the rock, and the roll. I didn't care where I went--it was time to go.

Twenty years ago, El Dorado was anywhere but home.

Twenty years later, El Dorado was back home, in her arms.

Today, the letter in my hand told me that she wouldn't be coming.

It took me three tries to get through it.


I tried to begin this letter with some small talk. Maybe I'd tell you about Daddy. Maybe talk about school. But I can't do that to you. By now, you already know what I'm going to say, because that's just how you are.

I can't tell you how much I love you. It makes me crazy that I can't. I can't even tell you how much you changed me.

When my mother left, I thought I was being punished. Because I had too much fun, goofed off, cared more about anything other than school and being a good daughter. And even though I knew she wasn't coming back, I worked so hard to study and to take care of Daddy... I didn't think I could have fun and be responsible at the same time. You showed me I was wrong.

It's funny, but I don't think you know that. You think I'm going to rescue you from the life you lead. You think I can make you a grownup. I can't do that, Fox. I'm just a kid. Sure, I'm older than everyone else at school, but I'm still a kid. I'll be starting college next year.

You're living in your own apartment, paying your bills. I'm going to be living in a dorm, getting care packages from Daddy.

I'm still learning who I am, and I can't support you when you're trying to run away from who you are. We're so different, and for one split second, we were the people we needed each other to be.

That doesn't make sense.

I'm sorry to do this like this. If I saw you or heard your voice, I'd chicken out. But I'm not sorry I love you. I hope that one day you'll feel the same.

I'll always be your cariño.

Yesterday she was my cariño.

Today she is my ex-girlfriend.

Tomorrow she'll just be Carissa.

I had no friends, no one to hold onto, and now, thanks to my landlady and my penis of a roommate, I had no place to live.

I called in sick to work, but I don't remember how. I didn't know where my phone was. My fingers were useless. It felt as though every word that left my mouth would melt into anguished sobs.

For an unknown period of time, I couldn't bring myself to eat. I couldn't even bring myself to walk to the kitchen and find a bottle of liquor. The only reason I got off the couch was because some movers came and took it away.

When I finally stood again, I took in the apartment without my roommate. He had taken with him the large television I never watched, the dining room table I never used, the wall art I never looked at, the canned food I never ate, and the wireless Internet antenna I never lived without. All that remained for me was a wok and some saucepans, a spice rack, a flattened mattress on the floor, a bureau moments away from collapsing, two unpacked boxes of books, and a refrigerator full of leftovers.

She left me.

Now what was I supposed to do?

to be continued...

i_17bingo: (Default)

"I need a bottle of sparkling water--Acque di Scolatura, if you have it."

"We appear to be sold out, sir."

My favorite part of a higher-class establishment like Byrne's is the way the staff would always call me sir, despite the fact that I have done nothing in my life that deserved such respect. "Do you carry Fogna?"

"We do, sir."

I said, "Then I'll have a bottle of that and a top-shelf scotch, no ice."

Sean McCoy leaned over and whispered in my ear, "I feel I should remind you that the financial burden of this round falls upon you."

I said to the bartender, "I'll have a club soda and well scotch."

That settled, Sean returned his attention to the rest of the bar and remarked, "Perhaps my observational skills are not up to par, but the capacity of this room seem a bit more dense than usual."

I sipped my drink, which always tasted better when it was his round, and noted, "It is kind of crowded today."

"The potential implication of this gathering intrigues me."

"There's no gathering," I told him. "This looks like a spontaneous outbreak of the bridge-and-tunnel people."

"Yet Byrnes does service a semi-regular commuter clientele."

"Those are Port Authority people," I reminded him. "This is a Grand Central crowd, and Grand Central is five long blocks away."


"You already used that word."


I shrugged. "That's a bit pedestrian for your extensive vocabular palate, n'est pas?"

He chuckled and shook his head. "I shall ponder a more appropriate synonym."

After downing my semi-rancid scotch, I announced, "While you do that, I'm going to investigate."

"Pause," he ordered.

"Why am I pausing?"

"Direct your gaze to a gentleman who had, moments ago, entered."

Squinting at the door, I said, "I can't past the woman in the red, off-the-shoulder sweater and the hypnotic torso."

"Naturally," he sighed. "The torso you've indicated appears to be accompanying the gentleman I'd earlier mentioned."

"Now that you mention, I think there is a guy standing there."

"He is a friend of mine."

"Now he's my friend too," I informed him. "Does he have a name?"


"We're going to have to work on that." I asked, "What are the odds you're going to go talk to him and find out if they're together together."

"And if she is not?"

"Then you can find out if she might be interested in getting together with a guy like me."

"And if she is not?"

"Then you can find out if she's into robots."

He growled. "Why is it that so many compare me to artificial life forms?"

"Because you're a goddamned robot," I replied.

"You could always conduct said interrogation yourself," he said.

"I don't want to embarrass myself."

He frowned. "That potentiality has never impeded you before."

"Pretty please," I whined.

He rolled his eyes. "I cannot fathom why I endure your company."

I flashed him a smirk and patted his cheek. "Because I have the best shenanigans."

Groaning, he shuffled off.

"Another?" asked the bartender.

"Absolutely," I replied. "It's his round, so let's try the top shelf again."

When Sean returned a moment later, glassy-eyed, I instructed him to pay the tab, and he filled me in on his conversation.

"Are you sure she didn't say Lebanese?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"Nobody's perfect," I mumbled. "What the hell--why don't you introduce me anyway?"

Sean blinked. "She inquired into whether or not I was a 'Chinaman.'"

I blinked back. "What?"

"I explained that my lineage is Japanese diaspora, but the very concept of separate Asian nationality eludes her." He concentrated really hard on this. "Yet I sensed no malice."

"Now I have to meet her." I made a beeline for the couple before Sean could stop me.

"Hi," I said, "I'm Max."

"Dick," replied the slightly stunned man.

"Can I call you Richard for short?" I asked. "My brother-in-law is named Dick."

"Indeed," said Sean, who appeared out of nowhere. "His brother-in-law was responsible for rearranging the topography of his face."

"To be fair," I added, "we were young."

The woman studied my crooked nose. "You dueled with him?"

"Truth is," I replied, "he dueled, and I fell to the ground, screaming and holding my face."

"Yet you appear to show the scar with pride."

I shrugged. "Souvenir."

"Like a 'T-shirt'?"

"Exactly like a T-shirt," I said. "I never caught your name."

"Jacyln," She extended her hand, far too delicately for someone with her biceps and shoulders.

I kissed it, because it seemed, for some reason, like the right thing to do. "My pleasure."

"The pleasure is mine."

"So," I asked, "What is it you do for a living?"


"Software? DVDs?" I replied before it occurred to me that a normal person wouldn't even dream of admitting that to a stranger.

"I find you confusing," she told me.

"And I find you confusing," I told her.

"Then that, at least, is something we have in common."

I smirked. "Lebanese or not, I think I'd like to buy you a drink." I added, "A cheap drink."


Jun. 20th, 2011 07:08 pm
i_17bingo: (Default)





"Do I look like a gladiator?"

"I've never seen you in a toga."

I liked her. "Keep playing your cards right."

"I give up," she said with a coy smile.



I nodded.

"Why would you ever want to shorten a name like that?"

"Because it's impossible to say in the middle of an orgasm."

After she blinked them, her eyes went wide.

"Have you ever tried?" I asked.

"Max Fuentes!" shouted someone else entirely from outside the dressing room we occupied.

"What is it, Fraulein Kommandant?"

When Gretchen entered, her angel's face was scrunched up in confusion; but she let that pass before replying, "You're supposed to be interviewing the star, not the makeup girl."

"Makeup woman," I told her.

"Well?" Gretchen tapped her feet to further illustrate her point.

As I stood, the makeup woman said to me, "When you're done in there, let's get back to talking about your name."

"Looking forward to it, Jen."

"Lynn," she replied coldly.

I winced. Gretchen snorted.

I let Gretchen go ahead of me, because my dislike of her did not extend to the way her ass swayed when she walked. "I don't see why I have to be here for this," I muttered.

"Because you're the reporter." She didn't end the sentence with the word idiot, but it was implied.

Sarcasm was a concept that didn't exist in her world, so I skipped ahead in the conversation. "I'm a goddamned stenographer. Let me save everyone the time: 'I'm Curtis McKean, and I'm really excited to be working with Stanley Marshall again. He's an actor's director, and he has this vision I believe in that really connects with the audience. Know what I'm sayin'? It's a dream come true to be working on a movie about the character of Mastermind, because I've been a fan of the comics since I was a little kid ...'"

She tossed her perfect waves of blond hair and growled, "What the hell is your problem?"

"My problem is that I have to walk through that door and say the words, 'Rumor has it that you and costar Alysin Perez sizzled off-screen as much as you sizzled on-screen. Any truth to that?'" I held my thumb and forefinger millimeters apart. "I am this close to clawing out my own goddamned tongue." I muttered, "Not like I'm going to get to use it on Gwen anyway."

Gretchen looked over her shoulder to the dressing room with a frown. "I thought her name was Lynn."

"Fuck this," I told her as I burst into the green room. "Time to be a quote-unquote journalist."

"Pull yourself together, Max Fuentes!" she scolded.

And the worst part? She was absolutely right. I loved my job. When was the last time I let it get to me like this? When was the last time I forgot a woman's name like this--especially one I was wooing so successfully? And so, as much as I didn't want to admit that she was right, I had to. "Okay," I sighed. "Why don't you give me a second while you go take some pictures or whatever it is you do."

"Because I took them already."

"Even the one where he gazes soulfully out a window?"


"How about the faux-candid shot where he lets down his guard and laughs shyly into his hand?"

"I forgot that one."

"Well get to it, then!" I demanded.

"You don't get to tell me how to do my job!"

From the overstuffed couch nearby, Curtis McKean chuckled, "You two need to get a room."

I was aghast because, while my body would gladly explore a weekend's worth of sins with her body, my personality found hers intolerably irritating. She was aghast because she'd found out by accident exactly what my personality thought of hers.

"Curtis," I said. "Can I call you Curtis?"

"Sure!" he replied.

I took a careful, cleansing breath before I said something I might regret. See, I know that I can be a cranky person. Some of this could be attributed to the fact that my job consisted of enabling overpaid narcissism, often on an irregular schedule, and usually at the cost of my sleep and health. Some of this could be attributed to my biggest hobbies, which consisted of sex, drugs, and the acquisition of such. Some--if not most--of this, could be attributed to the fact that I was a New Yorker. Hell, I'm sure that a lot of the blame could go to growing up in a trailer park with a bipolar tomboy as my closest friend.

But today was special. Today marked the eighth time in the two weeks since I met my new neighbor that she called me dude. That's not what was breaking me. No, what really pissed me off was how much that was getting under my skin.

Curtis McKean didn't deserve me taking this out on him, but that wasn't going to stop me from doing so.

"Curtis," I told him, "if you ever insinuate any kind of romantic chemistry between me and my photographer again ..."

"The newspaper's photographer," she clarified.

"...this photographer again, I will drop-kick your skull across the Triboro Bridge."

"What he said," Gretchen agreed.

Curtis McKean's perfectly sculpted nostrils flared with a furious veracity that he could never quite bring with him to the big screen. "You can't talk to me like that!"

The fact that I did was all I needed for me to return to character. I laughed, "Just kidding, Curtis! Can I call you Curtis?"

Curtis McKean's membership in Mensa was one of those little publicity factoids bandied about as a means of distinguishing him from the rest of the stars dotting screens big and small, but even all that intelligence couldn't help him comprehend what had just happened. He turned to Gretchen for slack-jawed clarification, but she just giggled, rolled her eyes, and shrugged.

"Before I ask you what it's like to work with director Stanley Marshall," I began, "how about letting me in on some of that behind-the-scenes chemistry between you and costar Alyson Perez?"

Hours later, I shuffled up the stairs to my apartment, dreading the inevitable run-in with my neighbor, who always seemed to be waiting to ambush me with that most cruel of cudgels: the word dude. Yet somehow--and I don't know how--I made it home unscathed.

As I deadbolted and chained the door, my fellow apartment-dwellers waved from the loveseat in front of the television.

Fellow dweller number one, Cameron, said, "Roomie."

"Roomie," I said back.

"Just getting in?"

"Yes," I replied.


"Yes, it is."

Fellow dweller number two, Mitchell, chimed in, "Shorty."

"Chico," I chimed back.

"How was work?"

"Crap," I replied. "Yours?"


"Glad we had this talk," I told them.

"Same again tomorrow?"

"Probably," I muttered before stumbling into my bedroom, kicking off my boots, and tossing myself onto my mattress just in time for my cell phone to buzz. I didn't have to look to know that it was my editor, Myron, who was the only person who ever called me.

"Chief," I said.

"I hate it when you call me that," he replied.

"Probably as much as I hate it when you call me on my phone."

"I don't really care what you hate," he said. "Reese Kensington just got arrested again for drunken disorderly."

"I'm not surprised," I replied. "Guy can't hold his liquor."

"I need you to meet Gretchen downtown and get a statement as soon as he makes bail."

I whined, "I just got home!"

"Well," he said, "since you live all the way up in Inwood, it's going to take you forever to get there, so I suggest you leave now."

I cried out, "Fuck!" so that the fu part lasted all the way through my ending the call, getting to my feet, slipping on my boots, splashing my face with cold water, and storming through the living room. The ck only occurred when I stepped out of the door, only to see my neighbor in the process of stepping into hers.

"Dude," she said before disappearing into her apartment.

Great. Now I was going to have to lash out at Reese Kensington, which sucked because I actually liked him...

to be continued...

Winding Up

Jun. 14th, 2011 08:49 pm
i_17bingo: (Default)


If you stopped me right now and asked if I had the time, one of three things might happen: I might ask, "The time to do what?"; I might treat you to a verbose, rambling meditation on the concept of time, how it relates to motion, and how a time machine would actually deposit you in the empty vacuum of space, due to the unending revolution of the Earth around the sun, and the rotation of the outer spiral arm of the Milky Way, and to the ongoing expansion of the universe; but most likely, I would give you a blank, bloodshot stare as your question ground to a halt the delicate, hard-fought momentum of my thoughts.

I needed every thread of concentration I could muster for my journey to the battered comfort of my mattress, because I couldn't tell you where it was. The only thing I could say for certain was that it wasn't in Park Slope anymore, because my landlady sold the place out from under me and my roommate was a cock.

I was pretty sure I had a new floor onto which my mattress now rested, and I was pretty sure I had new roommates, and I was also pretty sure I had to fib a little to get them to accept me. What was it I told them? Oh, yeah: that I was gay.

So maybe I had to fib a lot.

But why would I do that? I couldn't have been that desperate ... unless, of course, the apartment was in Manhattan. Even the filthiest of heterosexual harlots would tell that lie to get an apartment in Manhattan, and I was pretty damned filthy. However, there wasn't much of a point to having a place in Manhattan if one couldn't retire there for illicit trysts--unless it was somewhere really inconvenient, like Inwood.

That's it! I lived in Inwood as a gay man!

Okay, that was beyond fucking ridiculous ... but it had enough of a ring of truth that I was just going to go with it. And now that I knew where I was headed, I needed to figure out how to get there. That part was easy. I just had to take the A-train north to 207th Street and walk. The trick was figuring out which subway train I was on right now, where it was headed, and how to make the necessary transfer.

"The next stop is," the far-too-pleasant computerized female voice announced, "Inwood-207th Street!"

"Stand clear of the closing doors!" added the equally pleasant computerized male voice.

"A-train, next stop is the final stop, final stop," continued the less-than-pleasant conductor over the intercom. "No passengers, no passengers, remember all of your personal belongings, last stop, A-train, last stop."

Well, shit. This was going to be easier than I thought.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. My editor had assigned me a phone-in fluff piece about whatever summer movie was scheduled to bust the blocks this coming weekend--but then word got back to us about a super-secret, super-spontaneous, super-small-venue being put on by super-big-rock-stars at a bar in Long Island City. This kind of thing happened whenever a stadium-stuffing band like Duckpants felt the need to return to its alleged roots to reassert its alleged street cred. This kind of gesture is useless, however, if the public doesn't know about it, and so details are "leaked" to the press.

Being a successfully filthy harlot, I didn't have a whole lot of time for anyone playing hard to get, but unfortunately my editor did. And since Duckpants would be acting coy about their "unexpected" publicity, I needed to turn on the charm. I called a guy I knew in Bay Ridge who knew a guy in White Plains who knew a guy in Binghamton who knew a guy in Ontario, and before long, I was trading a notebook full of candid quotes for two ounces of the finest, not-at-all-legal agricultural engineering in the Northeastern Corridor.

And that's why, hours later, I found myself shuffling out of a desolate subway station, more stoned than I would be had I been living in Roman-occupied Palestine, seeing as I was a filthy harlot and all.

"God," I whispered, "let's make a deal. If you get me from here to my mattress, I will stop being such a harlot." I considered this for a moment. "Yeah, that's not going to work. How about, you get me home unscathed, and I will stop drinking and smoking the funny weed or the wacky tobaccy or the whacko tobacco or whatever it is you call it ..." What would God call it? "You know what I mean. Consider it. Amen. Sign of the cross and all."

I lurched forward, one foot after another, pretending not to notice the small pack of teenage hooligans popping up around me like prairie dogs wearing denim. Any interaction with these whippersnappers, whether it be confrontational or conversational, would extinguish the tiny, smoldering embers of brainpower that had survived the trip here. I had to get away, right the hell now.

"Hey, Ed!" one of the teens called out.

This was good, because I was not Ed, and so I didn't have to acknowledge them.

"Ed!" a teen called out. It could have been the same teen, but I didn't care, because I was not Ed.

"Come on, Ed! Talk to us!"

Yeah, Ed, come on.


Come on, Ed! I looked up to see if I could help these teens find Ed.

"We're right over here, Ed!"

My eyes scanned the otherwise empty street.

"Behind you, Ed!" yelled a voice from behind me.

I pushed forward.

"Don't be that way, Ed!"

Was I Ed? I thought I was Max. Did I become Ed when I wasn't paying attention? How is that even possible?

"Turn around, Ed!"

If I was going to make it over this last hurdle, I needed to hold onto one important fact: I was not Ed


Maybe I was Ed.

"Whatever, Ed! Fuck you!"

And for the next half-block, silence blessed me. Even if I was Ed, I still made it to the front door of my apartment building, and that was something. To follow this up, I amazed myself further with my ability to climb four stories of stairs and operate not just one, but two locks, and, since I was batting a thousand on this quest home, I thought I'd take my chances in the kitchen.

That was my first real mistake of the night.

I'd been squinting to keep my eyes open since I first left Queens, so it took me a long moment to understand exactly what it was I was seeing. On the kitchen counter sat a rectangular block of wood. Towering in the center of this block was a pair of flashlight batteries, from which copper wires coiled away, wrapping themselves around a pair of handles that rose from said block like horns; and holding onto these handles were the white knuckles of one of my roommates.

"Mitchell," I asked, making my second mistake, "what are you doing?"

"Electrocuting myself," he replied without taking even a moment to think about it.

My voice cracked. "Why?"

"To kill the parasites."

"I'm going to bed," I concluded and headed straight to my room, stopping when the front door knocked gently. I studied it, not fully comprehending. When I finally understood that it was not the door knocking, but someone on the other side of the door, I announced, "I'll get it!"

Strike three.

I peeked my head outside to find nothing. Maybe I was right the first time. Maybe the door did knock itself.

Proving me wrong, however, was the sound of a tussle to my left. I turned to investigate and witnessed someone struggling to balance several file folders and a purse in a desperate attempt to get inside her own apartment, which was right next to mine. What this meant, I didn't know--any and all conclusions were far beyond my reach at this time. I still had an eye for detail, though, and these details were fantastic: a short, black pencil skirt; well-maintained thighs in charcoal stockings; knee-high, leather boots; and bouncy, cinnamon curls. I couldn't tell you the color of her eyes or the shape of her lips, though, because she didn't raise her head when she told me, "You left your key in the lock."

"Well, shit," I replied when I realized she was correct. "I don't know where my head is today."

"Happens to the best of us, dude," she replied.

"My name's not dude," I said, and sobriety struck me like it was a sandstone boulder and I was an anthropomorphic coyote.

The sound of my heart beating its last was drowned out by the sound of a purse and several folders crashing onto the landing at her feet. "What the fuck you doing here?" Emma demanded.

"What are you doing here?"

"I asked you first!"

"I live here!"

"No, you don't!" she insisted.

"I have a key," I replied.

"No," she said, "that was there before you got here."

"Then how did I get inside in the first place?"

"It doesn't matter. You don't live there. Cameron and Mitchell live here."

"And now so do I."

"No, you don't!"

"What about you?" I asked. "I thought you lived in Williamsburg."

"I told you I was apartment-sitting."

"At the time," I admitted, "all of my concentration was on defiling you."

She groaned in defeat. "Now I remember. They told me they needed a new roommate."

"That's what I've been telling you," I said. "New roommate."

"Dude," she replied, "I read the flyer. 'F or GM only.'"

"First off," I reminded her, "My name isn't Dude. Second off, I'm totally a GM."

"I can testify under oath that you're not a GM."

"That was a fluke."

She shook her head. "Nobody flukes that good without a lot of practice."

"That's kind of you to say."

She squatted down to pick up everything she'd dropped. "Fuck this," she growled. "I don't care what you're doing here, dude, but leave me the fuck out of it."

"That's not going to be a problem, Em." This was going to be a problem, because, God help me, I wanted to bend her over the railing and fuck her until my legs fell off.

"My name's not Em, dude," she replied.

"Right back at you," I told her as I yanked my keys from the deadbolt and slammed the door between us.

"Sounds like you met our neighbor," Mitchell said from the kitchen.

"She's ..." I replied. "Something else."

"She's pretty sweet once you get to know her," he apologized.

"I'm sure she is." She tasted like vanilla, actually, but I wasn't supposed to know that.

"Good night, Max," he said.

I grunted. If this was God's idea of unscathed, then I was going to have to renegotiate the terms of our contract.

to be continued...

i_17bingo: (Default)

I hadn't been physically cornered, but I knew from experience that running would only hinder my escape. The only way out of this situation would be to stand still, remain calm, and keep talking.

The authority figure sipped his coffee and asked, "Aren't you supposed to be in class right now?" Given that I was a fourteen-year-old wandering around an empty high school hallway at ten thirty on a Tuesday, this was a fair question.

The answer was going to require a heaping helping of premium bullshit, which is best served wrapped in a thick layer of facts. In this case, I was supposed to be in class, so I said, "Yes." What I left out was that the class I was supposed to be in was located in the catholic school on other side of town.

"And why aren't you in it?"

"I'm running an errand." This was also true.

"Can I see your hall pass?"

"I don't have one." This honesty thing was a breeze!

The bearded teacher took another sip from his coffee with a grunt. "What's your name?"

There was no reason to start lying now. "Max," I replied. "Maximilian Fuentes."

"And who sent you on this little errand, Mr. Fuentes?"

Now I was going to have to start lying. "The principal."

"Which one?"

There was more than one principal? What was this nightmarish, tyrannical dystopia I'd stumbled into? The situation called for a Hail Mary—both the blind, desperate sports maneuver and the blind, desperate prayer to Jesus's mother. "The funny one?"

He grinned. "She is pretty funny, isn't she?"

I noted that the funny principal was female.

"Go on, run your little errand," he told me. "But when you get back to Mrs. Mihelcic's office, you need to remind her not to send students out to the hallways without a pass."

I noted that the funny principal's name was Mrs. Mihelcic.

He shook his head and resumed his walk to wherever it was he was going before I'd interrupted him, adding, "I'd hate for you to get written up for this."

"I'd hate that too," I said truthfully.

As soon as he was gone, I strolled around the corner and casually opened a classroom door. Whatever doodling, letter-writing, daydreaming, or, God forbid, note-taking was going on in the classroom came to a dramatic halt. I didn't know what the teacher had been doing, because I hadn't seen her at all until the moment she appeared in front of me, her eyes burning with rage and impatience. "Can I help you?"

With my cheeriest voice, I replied, "Hi! Mrs. Mihelcic sent me to pick up Lisa Green!"

"There's no Lisa Green here."

"Are you sure?" I asked. "My height? Light brown hair? Red hoodie? Kind of a mean look about her?"

"Do you see her here?"

I scanned the students' faces, taking care to wave at the really pretty ones, and turned my attention to the plaque on the door. "Oops!" I declared. "I should have looked more carefully! This is room C-101!" Smacking my forehead for emphasis, I added, "I have to learn to pay better attention. Thanks!"

Leaving behind handful of apologies, I slipped back outside, walked across the hall, burst into room C-102, and announced, "Hi! Mrs. Mihelcic sent me to pick up Lisa Green!"

It took me until D-112 before I had to move onto the next stage.

"And why does Mrs. Mihelcic want to see Miss Green here?" The teacher nodded his head in her direction.

I didn't look, because there was no way I could hide the inevitable, incriminating giggle that would spark with eye contact. Instead, I focused my attention on the teacher. "She didn't tell me, and frankly, sir, it's none of my business."

"Aren't you a little too young to be an office assistant?" he asked with a frown.

"I don't know how young that is, sir."

"Do you have a note?"

With a shrug, I replied, "You know how Mrs. Mihelcic is."

"I can't let her leave without a note."

"That makes sense. I'll just go back and tell her that I need a note. Is there a specific format or something, or should I just get a signed piece of paper?"

"I think that, as an office assistant, you'd already know the answer to that," the teacher snorted.

"I'm sorry, sir," I sighed. "I'm trying to learn but I just transferred in and Mrs. Mihelcic is so mad about something and I don't know for sure but I think it has to do with this Lisa Green person and I was afraid to ask too many questions and I know it was stupid and I'm trying to learn and if I have to go and come back with a note I just want to make sure it's the right one because I don't want to be yelled at again and if I learn to do it right I won't get yelled at so much..."

He shook his head, pulled a notebook of blue paper from his desk, and wrote on it. "I'm going to give you two a hall pass. The next time she sends you out, make sure you're carrying a slip of paper that looks like this, but in green. You got that?"

"I do, sir!"

"Go directly to the administrative office; no messing around."

"Okay," I said. "Thank you so much!"

As Lisa got up from her desk and sheepishly joined me in front of the room, it was more crucial than ever that we not look at each other. Her blushing alone threatened to melt my ruse.

As soon as we were alone in the hollow corridors, she grinned and punched me in the shoulder. "What the hell do you think you're doing? You're gonna get me expelled!"

"Come on, Green," I reminded her, "that was slick, you can't deny it."

She rolled her eyes and shrugged. "Should we grab Hakim?"

"Screw that guy," I told her. "It's just you and me today."

She blushed again. "What next?"

"What time does class let out?"

"About ten minutes."

"Then we're going to wait outside C-108," I said. "There's a girl there in black jeans I'm hoping to get to know better."

I heard her growl, but I didn't think anything of it. "Let's just go."

"Give me eleven minutes."

"We'll get caught."

I touched her cheek and looked her directly in the eye. "Trust me?"

"Yes," she sighed.

"Then trust me." Taking her hand, I led her toward the room in question.

i_17bingo: (Default)

Modern movies cost a great deal of money. If you'd like to see an invoice, look no farther than the big screen. Millions upon millions go into the sets, the on-location shoots, the costumes, the props, the explosions, and any number of bloated egos. There are also expenses you never hear about or see, like grips, makeup artists, animal handlers, lighting and sound technicians, tailors, caterers, and personal assistants. Of all of these, none are more invisible than the gofers.

The gofer system works like this: the bloated ego wants a coffee not offered on the catering cart, so he places an order with his or her personal assistant. The personal assistant to a major movie star probably has personal assistants of his or her own, who takes the order to the head gofer, who passes it on to a lackey. More likely than not, that lackey has neither the time nor the inclination to leave the set, so they turn the job over to another. Eventually the coffee arrives. It's not the most efficient method, but if you want efficiency, the second-to-last place you want to go is behind the scenes of a blockbuster in the making--the first, of course, being Congress.

Marc Weisman was the kind of director who preferred to speak directly to the one who would fetch his drink. This wasn't because he considered himself a regular guy; he just couldn't trust the telephone game of the gofer system to get his order right. Sure he could just write down what he wanted, but he shouldn't have to. He's Marc motherfucking Weisman.

To the gofer standing at attention before him, he held up a finger, which was bloated-ego-ese for, "Wait right there for me to conclude this business that is far more important than any business you might have." To his cell phone, he shrieked, "He wants to do what?"

Weisman paced back and forth along a three-by-eight-foot area of Manhattan asphalt and shrieked again. "The motherfucking film is entitled Intentions, and that's final!"

He barely let a moment pass before continuing, "I'm not some motherfucking music-video shit-for-brains, Benny! I'm motherfucking Academy-Award-winning filmmaker, motherfucking Marc Weisman! He's just some empty-headed fucking cattle who's about two movies away from retiring to motherfucking family-friendly entertainment!" He didn't allow the phone to say much before he continued, "I don't care if he's Jesus motherfucking Christ; I am not changing the name to The Darkside! Do you have any idea how many motherfucking movies are called The Darkside?"

After a beat, he told the phone, "I don't either. Look it up." Another beat passed. "You're a big-shot motherfucking producer, you can afford to pay somebody to look it up!" The phone talked for a little bit. Finally, Weisman concluded, "Call me back when you find out, you motherfucking asshole! I'm motherfucking curious!"

He stabbed the end button on his cell and held out his free hand, into which was shoved a triple hazelnut mocha with two shots of regular and one shot of decaf espresso, topped by fat-free whipped cream, sprinkled with a dash of nutmeg and three dashes of cinnamon, and blended with exactly six ounces of piñon-flavored coffee found only in one place in all of New York--a bodega in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

If he cared that he hadn't even placed his order yet, he didn't show it. He didn't shout, though, so that meant it had been properly prepared. He breathed deeply, stretched, took a long, hard look around the set, and produced a walkie-talkie from god only knows where. "I need to see the head of security," he calmly said to it, "right motherfucking now."

Instantly, a five-foot-six, butch woman in a tight ponytail and black T-shirt appeared at his side.

He spoke to her loudly and slowly, like she was a mentally handicapped child who didn't speak English. "You're head of security, am I correct?"

She nodded.

"What do I pay you for?" he asked the woman.

"Security?" she replied.

"That's right," he said. "And it's your job to keep paparazzi off of the set, am I right?"

She nodded.

"Good. I want you to keep that in mind, if you have the mental capacity to do so. Understand?"

"Yes, sir."

He frowned. "Where is your clipboard?"

"I don't carry a clipboard."

At this point, a vein in his head began to throb. "What do you carry?"

She held up a plastic tablet. "This here doohickey."

His eyes widened. "Did you just say doohickey?"

"I did, sir."

"Who the motherfucking fuck says doohicky?"

"Um," she replied, "me?"

"That was a rhetorical question, you rock-stupid fuck," he snarled. "Do you know what that word means?"

"It means you're giving a speech?"

He moaned. "Forget it. Let's look at your motherfucking doodad."

She switched her doohickey on.

He explained, "My assistant is supposed to give you a list of the most troublesome journalists who like to sneak on set. Did he?"

She said, "I know he's the mayor, but he's not allowed to have a camera backstage."


She indicated her earpiece and carried on her conversation with it. "He can talk to me about it." With a sigh, she added. "Tell him I am having a conversation with Marc Weisman right now, and I'll be over ASAP." She turned back to the director. "Sorry about that, sir. Where were we?"

He pointed to the list of names in her hand. "See that one? The number-two most wanted? He's especially tenacious. Do you know what tenacious means?"

"It means determined."

"Very good. I owe you a motherfucking biscuit."

The head of security was about twice the size of the director, and the look on her face indicated that she was weighing whether or not it would be worth losing her job for the satisfaction of breaking his jaw.

He continued, "I know for a fact that this motherfucking leech of a reporter has been champing at the bit for an onsite interview with our star, Jack Lagattuta. I also know for a fact that Jack Lagattuta has never given an onsite interview, nor will I let that happen on my watch. Get me so far?"

"It does say all that here on the doohickey," she told him.

"Then I want you to look around this entire cordoned-off section of New York City and tell me if you spot Max Fuentes."

"That's bullshit!" I declared. "Are you telling me I'm only the number two most wanted?" I probably should have mentioned that I was the gofer who brought him the coffee, but I didn't want to spoil the big reveal. After all, this was the movies.

The head of security scrutinized me, and then she scrutinized her doohickey.

"Um," I said.

"What do you think you're doing here, Mr...." She double-checked the doohickey. "...Fuentes?"

"I have a reasonable explanation for everything," I replied.

"I can't motherfucking wait to hear it," Weisman said.

"It goes like this:" I began. It occurred to me at that moment that I actually didn't have a reasonable explanation for everything, so I ran.

I admit it, that was kind of dumb of me. After all the time I spent getting here--from getting one of the key grips drunk enough to reveal the identity of caffeinated beverage Marc Weisman drank; to calling every bodega to find out who sold piñon coffee, to stealing the exact model of headset worn by this particular film crew--I had to go blow it on ego. I guess Hollywood was rubbing off on me.

As a runner, I don't have a lot of endurance. This is probably due to the thousands of cigarettes and joints I've smoked since I was thirteen. Regardless, I needed to shake the growing swarm of black-clad thugs behind me. Having had the foresight to wear two T-shirts, I ducked around a corner and stripped off the top one. It wasn't much of a disguise, but it might buy me enough of a head-start to flee the neighborhood and concoct another set of ruthless shenanigans to get me into Jack Lagattuta's trailer.

The two-T-shirt trick wasn't particularly useful, in that the top one got tangled in the headset and its battery. With a muttered "fuck," I tossed the whole mess aside and proceeded straight to plan B: hunkering down in the dark, lonely, far-off tent that housed the writers and their interns. Nobody ever went there, so I just might be safe until could continue my escape.

However, just before I arrived, I slowed down to a cool strut, caught my breath, smoothed out my hair, smirked, and said to the really cute lighting technician, "Hi, I'm Max."

And that's when security tackled me.

Damn. Women wearing tool belts: my only weakness.

to be continued...

i_17bingo: (Default)

When people point at a teenager and say, "That girl is crazy!"; there are a handful of things to which they might be referring. They could be condemning her choice of fashion, hairstyle, piercings, and/or tattoos. They could be praising her willingness to drink a lot and dance topless on furniture. They could even be editorializing on the way she drives. They're not talking about any of these when they say that Lisa Green is crazy.

For a good example of what I mean, we need to look back onto the morning of my fifteenth birthday, when I was supposed to be asleep. I wanted to stay that way, but the hand slapping my face didn't seem to care. "Get up!" it yelled.

I tried to ignore it and drift off, but that hand slapped me again. "Get up!"

"I can't," I replied. "I'm dead."

After another slap, I opened my eyes to a set of swollen lips spread out over an excited grin and a pair of dilated pupils peeking out from a curtain of stringy brown hair.

That woke me the rest of the way up. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

Lisa bounced off of my bed and landed on her feet on the floor. "I broke in!"

I sat up and scratched my head. "You did what?"

"I broke in," she repeated. "Hakim told me how. With a screwdriver and a ruler. I'll show you!"

"That's okay," I mumbled. "I'm the one who taught him." Okay, that wasn't even remotely accurate; but it was my word versus Hakim's, and my lies were way more convincing than his truths. Oh, and: "Don't you think it's a bad idea to break into someone's house when their family might be home?"

She impatiently blew a greasy lock out of her face, crossed her arms, and leaned on a nearby wall. "Your parents are at work, and your sister is doing whatever she does."

I sighed. "So what are you doing here?"

"I'm going to cook you a birthday breakfast!"

With a laugh, I asked, "You know how to cook?"

"I'm learning," she said. "Come on!"

"I need to get dressed first."

"Nothing I ain't seen before."

"What did I tell you about that word?"

She rolled her eyes. "Nothing I haven't seen before."

"Better," I replied. "And you haven't seen it on me before, so turn around."

She rolled her eyes again and obeyed. "Ready?"

"It's been two seconds."

"How about now?"

"Go wait for me in the kitchen."

She sighed and left. I sighed in turn.

Unwashed, untidy, and uncouth, Lisa Green was seven years old and feral the day I met her. And so, even though we were the same age, I made it my mission to civilize her. It took a lot of work, for three main reasons.

First off, we were both trailer trash, so if I was going to teach her some class, I was going to have to learn some myself.

Second, she was a slave to her id. In the third and fourth grade, this meant she ate anything she could forage and beat up anyone who looked at her funny. As she approached high school, she smoked, snorted, drank, and fucked anything or anyone she wanted.

The third reason presented itself a moment later, just as I was pulling a wrinkled rugby shirt over my head, and something metal clatter to the floor. I winced. It occurred to me that my mother tended to pack the kitchen cabinets a little tightly, much to the surprise of anyone who wasn't prepared. The crash was immediately followed by a howl of rage and a solid thump.

I charged into the kitchen to the sight of a huge, fresh hole in the faux-wood-paneled wall, the frying pan lying beneath it, and Lisa, her teeth gritted and cheeks stained with furious tears.

"What the fuck did you do?" I yelled.

She took quick breaths, and the rage began to drain out of the room.

I groaned. "How am I supposed to explain this? Papa's going to kill me."

Behind me, she let out a little squeak. "I'm so sorry."

My eyes still on the damage, I sighed, "I know you are."

She began to sob, "I don't know why ... I'm so ... So ..." When I did turn around, she had backed into a corner and had begun to sink to the floor, trying to disappear into herself. "I didn't mean to ..."

I know she didn't. And I wanted to tell her it was okay, but it really wasn't.

I sat beside her on the floor and scratched her back. She lifted her head and rested it on my lap. As I'd done since we were in the fifth grade, I stroked her head and rocked her back and forth.

"What's wrong with me, Fuentes?"

We used each other's surnames because our relationship had begun with a business transaction; i.e., I'd hired her to beat up a bully. Even during raw, naked moments like these, and even though we were as close as people could get without one having given birth to the other, we still stuck to our professional monikers. It was our thing. "I don't know, Green," I replied, because I really didn't.

"Am I going to be like this forever?"

"I don't know."

"Is that why you don't look at me like that?"

"Like what?"

"Like the other boys."

So we were having this conversation again. "Because I don't think about you like that." And that was true. Admittedly, I did check her out, but I was a teenager, and she was a cute girl; although her oversized clothes made it difficult to tell.

"Why not?"

"Because I'm in love with my girlfriend." I was young. I didn't know what love meant. Still don't.

"She doesn't know you like I do, Fuentes," she said.

I chose to ignore the implication.

Taking a deep breath, she sat up, wiped the drying tears out from her cheeks, and got to her feet. "Let's see what we can do to fix this."

"We can't fix it, Green," I told her. "You broke the wall."

"I said I was sorry!" she snapped.

A moment passed, and she sniffled. After returning her attention to the damage, she concluded, "I can't make it perfect, but I can make it not look so bad. Maybe easier to explain that way."


"I need some duct tape, a claw hammer, and a couple of rags."

And I'll be damned if she didn't make it look almost like nothing had happened. I still got in trouble, but I only had to explain a little ding as opposed to a fist-sized hole. The only thing we got for breakfast that morning was a pair of bagels from my refrigerator and a shared cup of coffee from the May's Cafe down the street. That episode, like the dozens before it, was never spoken of again.

Being her best friend took a lot of endurance. It was only a matter of time before it would run out.

i_17bingo: (Default)

I knew it was time to flee when Ricky Ortega's roar shoved its way down the crowded hallway. It wouldn't be long before he calmed down enough to seek out the one who'd filled his locker with shaving cream.

In lieu of taking the bus home, I opted to walk. Sitting still, even in a moving vehicle, seemed like a bad idea. I only made it about halfway, though, before the ground trembled behind me. I turned around, resigned to fate.

If a bull had married an old-fashioned steam locomotive, and if the product of that union were to mate with an avalanche, that offspring would be slightly less intimidating than an angry Ricky Ortega. His tight jaw and bloodshot eyes told me exactly what would happen next. Frankly, I had it coming.

"I bet you think you're pretty funny," he rumbled.

"As a matter of fact," I told him, "I do." My reputation as an aloof trickster hinged on my bravado, and that bravado was important. See, all it takes to weaken the ironfisted regimes of such bullies is one person who doesn't fear them. Okay, that's not entirely accurate; all it takes to weaken the ironfisted regimes of such bullies is one person who acts like he doesn't fear them. The truth was, I was terrified of Ricky Ortega. More importantly, I was terrified of the pummeling I was about to receive.

I braced myself for it, but nothing could have prepared for what he said next. "I got a joke for you."

I blinked. "Really."

He grinned. "Wanna hear it?"

I nodded and muttered, "This should be good."

"Knock, knock."

Out of sheer instinct, I replied, "Who's there?"

"You're gonna get hit in the face."

"'You're gonna get hit in the face' who?" This part wasn't instinct. I really did want to know the surname of "You're gonna get hit in the face."

I found out the answer when my face exploded a half-second later.

I'd been beaten up so many times in my life that it was practically a hobby. As such, I like to think that I'd become an expert in the various punishments and humiliations inflicted upon smaller people. I'd been punched, slapped, kicked, tripped, shoved, wedgied, and, on one night of rare creativity, duct-taped to a wall. Therefore, what happened to me was just plain baffling.

For starters, I couldn't state with any conviction that it was Ricky who was responsible for my face exploding. It happened so quickly that I didn't see him move. Given the circumstantial evidence, such as his presence and the subject of his knock-knock joke, I felt it was a safe assumption.

I could only tell you what I thought happened. I thought someone had set off a firecracker in my sinuses. I thought someone had splashed a bucket of warm paint on my face. I thought someone had stolen my nose. Weirdest of all, I thought I heard someone crying.

It couldn't be me. I haven't cried while under assault since the third grade. I'd never give the bad guys the satisfaction. Besides, I was too busy collapsing to be crying. Still, it sounded like me, and more than just blood trickled around my cheeks.

On the other side of the pain from my freshly broken nose, Ricky Ortega's triumphant voice shouted, "What do you think about that joke?"

It was my sacred duty to defy him, but the only thing I could actually say was, "Good one, Ricky ..."


Apr. 3rd, 2011 04:34 pm
i_17bingo: (Default)


To be honest, I've had worse hangovers than this. Hell, compared to some of the benders I've plunged into in the name of journalism, this was amateur hour. I did drink a lot, though, and so my sandpaper eyes refused to open, the sparkplugs in my brain weren't firing properly, and my metaphors were mixing. Until any of these things sorted themselves out, I would never be able to work out whose hair and warm breath were tickling my bare chest.

I concentrated a little more and determined that it wasn't just my chest that was bare. In fact, based on tactile deduction, the only part of me that wasn't bare was my sock-covered left foot.

None of this made any sense. That's not true. It made sense that I'd wake up in bed with a stranger; that's just classic Fuentes. What didn't make sense was the irresponsibility of my current position. If I was too drunk to remember sleeping with someone, I was too drunk to sleep with someone; safe sex is, to me, pure instinct.

My alcohol consumption at the party last night barely registered on my Richter scale of substance abuse, though, so it took only a few minutes of shaky concentration to recall that she had been more than a little tipsy, and that I walked her home, and we made out on her couch, and we both had the presence of mind to call it off before it got too far.

Good for us.

It didn't explain why I was naked, though. And it certainly didn't explain who she was. Best-case scenario, she was September, the glorious siren who'd taken my breath away last night with her musical laugh and dazzling green dress. Worst-case scenario, she was my irritating photographer, Gretchen; this would make things really awkward, because she'd caught me speaking ill of her behind her back last night, and I was still pretty mortified.

I heaved and pulled, and one of my eyes finally pried open. Her hair was red. The good news was that Gretchen was blond. The bad news was that September was brunette. So who the hell was she? And why was she wearing my shirt?

She groaned unsteadily, "You awake?"

"Not so loud," I replied. Sure I was a pro at this, but that didn't make the headaches any easier.

She whispered, "You awake?"

"I want you to go over this conversation in your head for a second," I whispered back, "and then think about the answer to that question."

"I had no idea you were such an asshole, Mike."

"My name's not Mike."

She sat straight up. "Oh my god, I am so sorry, dude!"

"It's not Dude either."


"Do I look like a Mitch?"

She sighed. "Oh, Jesus, this is bad."

"It was that kind of night."

Her wobble indicated that she knew exactly what I was talking about, and she lowered herself back onto me. In the brief moment she'd been thrashing around, I caught a glimpse of my boxers on her hips. I really needed to get to the bottom of this.

"Matt?" she whimpered.

"Getting warmer," I replied. Her name was Emma.

"That's right," Emma moaned. "You have the same name as one of my friends."

"You have a friend named Dude?"

Evidently, she didn't find it necessary to remind me what an asshole she thought I was. "What exactly did we do last night?"

"Well ..."

"Never mind," she interrupted. "I remember everything now. Thanks."

"For what?"

"For an asshole, you have a lot of restraint."

"Men are more than just sex-crazed animals, you know."

"Just take the thanks."

"You're welcome."

She asked, "Could you do me a favor, Max?"

Wow, it only took her four tries. Yet my self-esteem couldn't think of a single reason to be nice to her at this point. "It's Mike, actually."

"Could you hold my hair back when I go throw up?"

"You realize," I informed her, "that as soon as do that, I will never be able to think of you sexually again."

"That's a sacrifice I'm going to have to make."

I wish I could say I was right about that sacrifice. Sure, there was nothing at all appealing about the seven to ten minutes I spent restraining her chaotic, cinnamon-colored curls from tangling up with a ribbon of liquor and mostly digested hors d'oeuvres; but the way she sank to the tile floor turned me on even more than her turtleneck-stocking-knee-high-boots combo from last night. I couldn't tell you why with any certainty, but I was willing to bet that it was because, in that moment, she was more naked than I was--and all I had to wear was this bedsheet.

That all dissolved when she belched. With a grimace, she told me, "I think there's a spare toothbrush around here somewhere."

"I brought my own."

She squinted at me. "Dude," she said, "don't you think that's a little presumptuous?"

"My name's not Dude," I replied. "Besides, you've got a pack of condoms in your purse."


"Oral hygiene is very important to me," I added.

"You know what, dude?" she groaned. "I don't care about your cavities. I need some privacy."

"My name's not Dude."

"Get the fuck out."

I waited in the hallway through the sound of the toilet flushing, the whir of an electric toothbrush, and the toilet flushing again. The door cracked open just a little, and her fingers snaked out, waving my underwear like a flag of surrender. My shirt followed a moment afterward.

"Why are you wearing all of my clothes, anyway?" I asked her hand.

"I needed something to sleep in."

"You don't have anything in your own place?"

"It's not mine," she said. "Apartment-sitting." She added, "Boy clothes are more comfortable."

"I've never tried to sleep in a bra, so I'll have to take your word for it."

"Trust me, dude."

"My name's not--"

She slammed the door. While she showered, I located my boots, my tie, my leather pea coat, and my khakis, donning them in that order. Finally, alert, refreshed, and bound in terrycloth, she emerged from the cleansing steam of the bathroom. "All yours if you want it."

I frowned at her. "That's a boy robe."

"This is a boy apartment."

"And this didn't occur to you last night when you made me strip down to nothing?"

She looked me up and down before replying, "It did."

I didn't want to smirk, but I couldn't help myself. "How's the hangover?"

"Pretty much gone."

"Want to have sex?"

She laughed, stopping mid-ha. "You're serious."

I held up my index finger. "We didn't last night, even though we both wanted to." I held up my middle finger. "You have condoms." My ring finger went up. "I don't have to be to work until ..." I glanced at my cheap-looking watch. "... twenty minutes ago." I showed her my pinkie. "I don't actually like you, and I have no intention of calling you after I leave today, and I'm certain the feeling is mutual."

She mumbled, "Well, I wasn't going to say it out loud ..."

To wrap it all up, I extended my thumb. "And finally, I have a thing for redheads, and you have a thing for sleazy, arrogant bastards. You can't argue with my logic."

"You're right," she replied, "I can't. Get naked."

I began disassembling the tie I'd just reassembled.

"Brush your teeth first, dude," she added.

to be continued...


Mar. 28th, 2011 07:23 am
i_17bingo: (Default)


I'll never forget the very first thing she said to me. She said, "Shoes sink. New plan: set A-list dove wings in curl?" On second thought, maybe she said, "Blue-pink toucan wet, hurray! This loving the world?" It also could have been, "You think you can get away with shoving a girl?" It was kind of hard to hear because my testicles were aching from a recent, enthusiastic kick, and dirt was being shoved into my mouth.

Twenty years ago, at the age of seven, I had a gang. My lieutenant was Hakim, a master thief who could get anywhere. My thug was Angelo, who was tall and kind of chubby and therefore intimidating. Rounding us out was my cousin Banjo. Banjo was younger than the rest of us and pretty useless, but he wasn't annoying, so we let him hang around. If we were a miniature mafia, I was the miniature godfather. Hakim stole what I told him to, Angelo threatened who I told him to, and Banjo stayed out of my way when I said so.

One afternoon, Angelo were hanging out at the school playground, and we saw a girl our age sitting on our swings. I wasn't having that, so I sent him over to push her off. The fact that she landed in a mud puddle was a sweet bonus. A few mornings later, she retaliated.

My life changed that day.

Prior to that moment, Hakim, Angelo, Banjo, and I were marching down a path that led to juvenile detention and a mailbox full of welfare checks. But as I went home to clean myself, change my clothes, and lie to my parents so they didn't know their son just got his huevos handed to him by a girl, I thought about her. If I was this humiliated without witnesses, how did she feel with a couple of her peers pointing and laughing?

From that point on, I had a new mission. I sent Hakim out to retrieve stolen toys and Angelo out to frighten bullies. But after about a week and a half of this, some of the bullies began to fight back, and it became apparent that Angelo was not a very good enforcer. What we needed was someone mean and angry. We needed that little girl.

I tracked her down and paid her five Merde Bars to take care of Simon Largo, one of our more obstinate problems. It worked out so well that we put her on retainer, at a price of one candy bars and a bag of Xtra-spicy Munlach Brand Buffalo Chips per week. Eventually, she loosened up enough with us that she started kicking ass pro bono.

Her name is Lisa Green, and she was the most important friend I've ever had.

I'll never forget the very last words I said to her, ten years after we first met. I said, "Don't you ever fucking dare ask me for anything ever again."

And yet, there she was on the phone, asking me for something.

I repeated it, just to be sure: "You seriously want me to let you sleep in my place this weekend?"

"You're right," she sighed. "I don't know why I thought calling you was a good idea. It's probably the stupidest thing I've ever done."

"Pretty high up there, at least."

We both laughed nervously.

I told her, "I don't have a choice, do I?"

"You can tell me to fuck off."

"I don't want to do that." I took a moment to squeeze back the tears that were coming. "JFK or LaGuardia?"


"Figures," I muttered. "See you there."

"Fuentes," she told me, "I've missed you so much."

I wanted to say, "I know," or "Me too," but my throat had tightened too much to let words out.

At Newark Liberty Airport the next day, I alternated between watching the arrival board and pacing. I couldn't recall the last time I was this nervous about seeing a girl, especially one I had no plans to seduce.

With the travelers from her flight pouring into the baggage claim area, I paced harder. Would I recognize my long-ago-exiled best friend? Of course I would. I knew that face better than I knew my own. I'd spent my childhood and adolescence witnessing her growing into it.

There was that slightly too-large nose, which I'd had to squeeze shut the first time we'd ever smoked pot. It flared when it was angry, as it did when she'd discovered that the boy to whom she'd lost her virginity was interested only in keeping score. Today it was still a little too big, but smooth and elegant.

There was her jaw--a little too sharp to be feminine--that set when she was hurting, or clenched like it did when she saw me mere moments after uber-bully Ricky Ortega had shattered my nose in retaliation for some stunt I'd pulled. Today, it was still strong, but now soft and relaxed.

There were her eyebrows, furrowed, arched, and raised, now thin and inquisitive; and her hair, greasy and tangled, but now full and soft and bunched into a loose clip at the base of the neck I'd never seen before. There were her engorged lips, which rarely grinned, preferring instead to smirk and pout. Once, they were barely darker than the rest of her face, but now they were crimson, swollen, and sexy.

And then there were her chocolate-colored eyes, able to convey the broadest of emotions by being perpetually narrowed. They could be annoyed, as they always were around Banjo; they could be disappointed, as they always were around my friend Angelo; they could be inquisitive, as they always were around Hakim; they could be judgmental, as they always were around my girlfriend at the time, Heather; they could be stoic, as they always were around her family; they could be coy, as they always were whenever we exchanged secret glances; they could be flirtatious, as they were always were around most boys; and they could be angry, as they were most of the time. On the other side of the baggage carousal, they scanned the crowd until they found me and lit up.

She cautiously moseyed over, her head cocked as she examined me to make sure I was the right guy. As she did, I wondered what she had remembered about my face and whether the current one disappointed her in any way. I gave her a smile.

At this moment, so much needed to be said. She needed to apologize for what she did to make me hate her for so long. I needed to apologize for giving up on her. She needed to tell me how she'd grown up to be such a woman. I needed to tell her about the deep tear I'd made in my soul when I'd walked away from her ten years ago.

She went first. "Fuentes."

That was my cue. "Hey, Green."

"It's good to see you again."

"You're wearing lipstick," I told her.

"Yeah," she replied. "Started doing it to impress a boy."

"Did it work?"

She shrugged.

"It looks good," I said.


"You want to get out of here?"

"I do."

to be continued...


Mar. 20th, 2011 07:27 am
i_17bingo: (Default)

There was nothing Lisa Green hated more than being a kid.

When she wasn't floating around this vast, barren trailer park in this vast, barren town in this vast, barren desert, she was wedged into her tiny, secret ditch far from her bed. When she wasn't hiding there, she was in her room, getting chewed out by her father's latest "aunt" for not being quiet enough. When she wasn't sitting through that, she was at school, getting chewed out for not learning hard enough. When she wasn't in class, listening to their bullshit, she was at recess, pretending not to hear what the other kids were saying about her when they followed her around. And when she wasn't getting tormented by them, she was home with her father. It got so all she wanted was to be left alone.

But even with the way things were in her seven-year-old life, she never believed for one minute that it could get worse; but there it was, in her hand: an F. Since she was in for a long, long weekend now, she figured she'd take her time getting home, and that's how she ended up in the catholic school playground. She went there all the time on the weekends because they had the cool, older-kid swings--the rubber ones you could jump off of, not the shitty baby harnesses they had at the public school.

As she sat there, swinging back and forth, imagining what it would be like to bring home an A, a pair of hands shoved her off the swing, into a puddle. She rescued the soggy report card and sat up in time to watch a chubby kid her age waddle over to his scrawny friend, who just stood there, wearing a wicked smirk.

Something in her snapped. Sure she'd been pushed to the ground more times than she had fingers, but this time she was getting even--just not yet. The coming revenge armored her up that night as her father punished her coming home late and soaked, and again when he came back for seconds because of the F. She had no intention of going after the kid who'd done the deed. It was obvious that shoving her wasn't his idea. Besides, she didn't know who he was. But his friend? Him she knew.

He was alpha dog to a pack of little shits that prowled her trailer park, breaking things and running away from grownups. His dad was her father's supervisor at the bottle factory, so he had a name: Fuentes. If he had a first name, she didn't give a fuck, especially now.

A few days later, she woke up early, and skipped breakfast so she could find him alone at his bus stop. She never said a word. She just snuck up behind him, kicked him in the balls, and made him eat two handfuls of dirt. That night, she slept like the dead, even with inevitable retaliation circling the sky around her.

A couple of Saturdays later, it finally swooped down to her secret ditch. Her face hot and her stomach very, very cold, she watched Fuentes, his chunky friend in tow, stroll up and look her in the eye. There was no fear on his face; just that predatory smirk. "Hi," he said, "I'm--"

"I know who you are, you fart!" she told him, balling up her little fists.

At that, the chunky one charged, but Fuentes held him back, saying, "I got this, Ange."

"But she called you a fart!"

"I said I got this!" To her, he said, "Sorry. He's still pretty mad about how you cracked my huevos."

In her toughest voice, she asked, "You want me to do it again?"

"Yeah," he replied.

She dropped her arms. "Huh?"

Ange frowned. "Huh?"

Fuentes's cheeks lifted with that dangerous smirk. "Not to me, you dummy. Simon Largo."

"Who the fart is Simon Largo?"

"He's in my class at the catholic school."

"And you want me to kick him in the balls?"

"You don't have to kick him in the huevos," he explained. "You can give him a black eye or a wedgie or make him eat dirt like you did to me; all I care about is that he knows he got beat up by a girl."

"Why?" she asked.

"He's a bully."

"So are you."

"I got better." Again, there was that cocky smirk. "Simon Largo and his friends need to know they can't get away with that kind of stuff anymore. You're the meanest, toughest person I ever met."

Ange growled.

Fuentes ignored him. "I need you to make an example out of him."

"Why?" she asked again.

"Name your price."

She thought of the most ridiculous one she could imagine so they would just go away. "Five Merde Bars."

"You're crazy!" shouted Ange.

"Let me handle this!" Fuentes barked. He turned to her. "Deal."

"How do I know you'll pay up?"

"If I don't," he replied, "you make scrambled eggs in my pants."

She couldn't stop herself from smiling. "Deal." They shook hands, and he passed her a slip of paper with Simon Largo's address on it. The following Monday, she snuck into the Largos' backyard, punched Simon in the face three times, and threw his action figures into the street. That Wednesday, Fuentes found her in her secret ditch. He was carrying a paper bag and that stupid smirk of his.

She snatched the bag away and looked inside, ready for one more disappointment in a long life full of them. Instead, she found six assorted Merde Bars, and not the mini ones either. "I only asked for five."

"I know," he replied, "but I threw an extra one in because everyone knows what happened to him, and no one knows it was me."

"Thought that was what you wanted."

"It was, but I didn't expect you to do it so good." Again he smirked that cute smirk.

She blushed. "So, ah, if you want me to, like, I don't know, beat someone else up, um ..."

"And if you ever, you know, want to throw rocks at stuff with me and Ange, like, whenever, you totally can." He added, "I'm Max."

Okay, so she was crushing on him then, just a little, but she didn't want to be too easy. "I don't give a fart, Fuentes," she replied.

"Suit yourself, Green." Right before he ran back to the vast, barren trailer park, leaving her alone, wedged in her tiny, secret ditch, he gave her one more dazzling smirk and told her, "I'll be in touch."

i_17bingo: (Default)


"One plastic cigarette lighter; one three-by-five-inch spiral-bound notebook, blue cover; one leather wallet, no cash ..."

"Hey!" I snapped. "There was cash when I got here!"

"That's not what the logbook says."

"Son of a bitch!"

"Continuing on:" said the police officer as he tallied the items piled on the desk in front of him; "one cell phone, turned on; one breath-mint tin full of business cards; one watch, cheap-looking ..."

"No editorializing, please."

" ... one eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-inch flyer, folded; three condom wrappers, empty--want me to throw those away?"

"I think I'll hold onto those for now," I replied with a grin. Mementos."

"You are a smug bastard, Fuentes."

"It's true."

"And finally: two disposable pens."

"Thanks, Roger," I said as I swept the items into my pockets.

While I signed the necessary forms, Roger read from his clipboard. "Says here you were brought in for possession."

"Accessory," I said. "Came in with the band." My definition of accessory was scoring some mescaline in exchange for an interview, but that was between me and my work-appointed attorney.

"Anybody I ever heard of?"

"Doubt it," I replied.

"Try me."

"The Jane Plains."

"Never heard of them," he admitted. "What's their genre?"

"Hip-hop-slash-tribal-Native-American fusion."

Roger winced. "That doesn't even make sense."

"I know," I told him, "but they actually sounded pretty good."

"Wonders never cease."

I shrugged and headed for the door. "Until next time, Roger."

"See you later, Max."

In the men's room of a nearby coffee bar, I checked the date on my phone while brushing my teeth. It was the twenty-fifth, so I still had about a week to find a new apartment That comforted me just a little, until I remembered it was February.

I rinsed, spit, and muttered, "I should probably do something about that."

Even though the night before had come and gone without any real substance abuse on my part, it still took a few minutes for my brain to rev up properly and remind me of the flyer in my pocket. I held my breath and called the number.

"Hello?" muttered the man's voice on the other side of the phone.

"Is this Cameron?" I asked.

"Cammy!" the voice yelled. "Phone!"

From somewhere in the distance, Cameron yelled back, "Jesus! Stop shouting so loud!"

"Can I ask what this is about?" whispered the first voice.

"I met Cameron at the Jane Plains show last night, and he said he was looking for someone to help out with the rent."

"We are!" the voice said. "Do you want to schedule an appointment to swing by and take a look at the place?"

Cameron yelled, "Jesus! Stop talking so loud!"

I read the flyer. "Your address in Inwood, which is a little over two hundred blocks from here." I read my cheap-looking watch. "Also, it's eight thirty, and I'm expected to be in the office by nine. I can come over right now if you like."

"I don't know. Cammy drank a little too much at the concert. It might not be the right time."

"On the contrary," I told him, "it's the perfect time. Hell, I just spent the night in a holding cell ..." Shit. I probably should have kept that to myself. I pushed on, though, just in case. "If we can get along in this condition, then maybe we're made for each other."

After a long pause, he said, "I like the way you think."

"Doesn't everybody?"

A little over two hundred blocks later, I knocked on a door on the fourth floor of a five-story walkup in the northernmost neighborhood in Manhattan. It was not Cameron who answered. Where Cameron's shape was tall and slightly rounded, this guy's was short and sharp. Where Cameron's skin was the shade of cappuccino, this guy's was more like hot cocoa. Where Cameron's forehead was expansive and crowned by a tight, salt-and-pepper fade, this guy's was hidden by a threadbare golf cap. And where Cameron wore cargo pants, this guy opted for snug cotton briefs.

I could have stood there in silence, averting my eyes for all eternity, but Cameron rescued me by yelling from somewhere within, "Jesus! Stop opening the door so loud!"

"I'm Mitchell," said the guy. "Come on in. I'll get some pants."

"Thank you for that." I froze immediately upon entering. When Mitchell returned, I asked with great awe, "What is this, nine hundred square feet?" After consulting the flyer, I asked with even more awe, "Two bedrooms? In Manhattan? At this price? Is this for real?"

"I know, right?"

In shock, I sank into a nearby easy chair, impossible flyer in hand.

Cameron yelled from the kitchen, "Jesus! Stop sitting so loud!"

"Long story short," Mitchell said, "Cammy got laid off in December, and there's not a lot of prospects out there."

I shrugged with genuine sympathy.

"It's a big place, and the other bedroom is empty anyway, so we figured could really use the help."

"What a coincidence," I replied. "I could really use the bedroom."

After we traded names and occupations, the important questions began. "What do you think about living with a couple?"

"I think domesticity is comforting." Truth be told, I was worried about relationship drama.

"Most people are worried about relationship drama." Imagine that. "You're not a party animal, are you?"

"Not at all." Not at home, anyway.

"Do you smoke?"

"Not for years." I was referring, of course, to cigarettes.

"Do you cook?"

Finally, something I could be completely honest about. "I love to, actually."

"I bet you make a mean enchilada."

"Excuse me?" I couldn't remember the last time someone had drawn attention to my ethnicity with that kind of recklessness, and I had no idea how I was supposed to react.

From the kitchen, Cameron yelled, "Jesus! Stop being tactless so loud!"

"What?" Mitchell was confused for second, and then he caught on. "Oh."

Had there been even the slightest bit of malice in his words, I would have walked away right then and there. We chose instead to ignore it.

He moved onto the next topic. "Have you ever seen a UFO?"

I laughed.

A wide-eyed Cameron appeared suddenly behind Mitchell, making quiet slashing motions across his throat--which is the universally recognized signal for "Stop what you're doing! Oh, for the love of God, stop!"

I recovered in the time it took me to blink. "I laugh because I was born and raised in New Mexico, and the UFOs practically live there."

"Wow," sighed Mitchell.

Cameron flashed me a grin and a thumbs-up before retreating back into the kitchen.

Mitchell cleared his throat. "And last, but not least, do you have a boyfriend?"

"I'm between relationships right now," my mouth said before the rest of me had a chance to comprehend what my ears had just heard. And it was a good thing too, because my eyes now discovered a detail on the flyer I'd missed before: "F or GM only."

And so the question before me wasn't whether or not I was willing to lie about my sexuality in order to win their approval; I had no problem with that. The question was, how long did I really think I could get away with it?

Oh, what the hell. Nothing ventured, et cetera et cetera. "I just haven't met the right guy yet."

to be continued...


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